Friday, May 29, 2009

TDIH: Kennedy & Commencement

Had the horrible events in Dallas not taken place in 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be ninety-two years old today.

Few of Kennedy's contemporaries are alive today, those that immediately come to mind are Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia), born the November following Kennedy and ailing as I write this; fellow World War II veteran William Warren Scranton; and a little closer to home, Idahoan and fellow Catholic Pete T. Cenarrusa. However, I'd never contend that Kennedy, had he not been killed in Dallas, would be alive today. Kennedy was the victim of a damaged and diseased body. Having spent much of his childhood hospitalized, his short presidency was not without it's physical torments and as the years have passed and we've gained a better understanding of Addison's Disease, some have said it would have shortened Kennedy's life.

Some time ago, a national magazine offered a rendering of what an aged-JFK may have looked like. I remember looking at that image as if it were the most foreign concept my mind had encountered. Ingrained in our collective national memory are the images of the youthful Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, which has made watching Teddy age and battle brain cancer all the more difficult. We are unaccustomed to watching a Kennedy age and that was not lost on me when I saw the rendering of a much older John F. Kennedy.

Despite being lost to this country entirely too soon and much earlier than my generation has a memory of, there are images and ideals we've come to grasp as if they are never ending and ageless. While many in my generation are fighting for our country in wars on two fronts, some of us are graduating from college and beginning our careers in a world that would be as foreign to John Kennedy as an aged version of him is foreign to us.

One of Kennedy's speeches that I've always been drawn to is that given at American University for the 1963 commencement ceremony. President Kennedy was able to quote who I consider to be among the greatest Poet Laureates, John Masefield, and did so with the remarkable grasp of literature and poetry I admire so much about the late president. In the beginning of his remarks at American, he quoted Masefield's description of what the University should be: "[A] place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see."

I wonder if Kennedy believed his collegiate career to have offered him that very atmosphere and if the commencement speaker upon his graduation from Harvard offered him the insight to draw upon Masefield that June of 1963 when he was asked to speak at American. It is quite possible that the poet Carl Sandburg offered the commencement address at Harvard in 1940. Whether the ailing and soon-to-be enlisted Kennedy was in attendance when Harvard offered Sandburg an honorary degree is unclear, but Kennedy's respect and appreciation for poetry remained. Was it a slight to Carl Sandburg when Kennedy picked Robert Frost, Sandburg's rival, to recite his work at Kennedy's inaugural or was Frost simply Kennedy's favorite poet? This is merely an aside and doesn't change the fact that Kennedy's speech at American remains one of his most quoted and referred to speeches. For a man so well known for his use of words and talent for public speaking, that his speech at American is revered says a lot about the power of that address.

So vibrant and full of hope for our country, Kennedy offered an almost Utopian vision for the class of 1963. Contrasted with whatever vision has been offered across this country on behalf of the class of 2009 and you'll find that the world is a very different place than the one led by President Kennedy.

We may have a forward-thinking president in the White House, but we have a country brought to its knees by a bad economy, mismanaged wars, and threats from various culprits. We lack the ambition and drive that guided the hand of a young president as he laid out a plan to put a man on the moon within the decade. We lack the bipartisanship that once allowed political leaders to give speeches to graduating classes without mention of party principles or their own accomplishments. A commencement speech should be about those in the audience who are setting out on their own for the first time, not about a speaker and his or her connections. This realization of what a commencement speech should be came to me recently as I read the commencement address given before my friends at the University of Idaho. We are, in short, lacking the attitude in ourselves and in our leaders to set goals as lofty as putting a man on the moon. There is so much we can learn from the man who would have been ninety-two today.

In Kennedy's speech at American, he closed with a string of statements that are rather poignant today:
"The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough--more than enough--of war and hate and oppression."
We have gone to war in two countries, one in response to one of the darkest days in our history and one without cause or at least not without the cause we stated as justification in the beginning. We are now a nation that does in fact start war and we must ultimately hope to return to being that nation Kennedy spoke of, the nation that others look to as lacking the aggressive nature required to start wars. Oh, how a post-Bush world might have disappointed our thirty-fifth president.

I have to think, had Kennedy lived he may never have actually made it to the age of ninety-two, but think of all the possibilities, all the influence he would have continued to have, had he lived just a bit longer. I like to think the world would have been better with him in it, just as I like to think that we do in fact learn from our history.

(Kennedy's commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963 is available to listen to via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quote of the Day

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Extension of Self

Lately, I have been thinking about the theme and general direction of this blog, neither of which I am currently happy with.

As a few of my fellow bloggers have revamped their sites, the most successful being the unequivocal notion with his daily list of links that we are all now addicted to, I have taken note of what works and what simply doesn't. Community blogs or blogs with multiple authors work in some cases (43rd State Blues) and simply burn out in others (Red State Rebels, by no fault of the Blogmother). Things that I think absolutely work are the "Spud State Blog Rundown" posts at 43SB, the growing number of contributions from Sisyphus and nearly everything over at the MountainGoat Report. Certainly what works in the Idaho blogosphere isn't limited to these three stand-outs. There are new blogs (new to me at least) popping up all over the state that I'm catching on to and enjoying immensely (Nemesis Today, Byron Yankey's site and TUBOB). And of course, there are blogs that have been around for years that always offer unique perspectives (Idablue, TSSBP, etc.).

A community or multi-author blog isn't in the cards for The Political Game. The people I would entrust with writing here mostly have blogs of their own. Additionally, Blogger is not the best blogging platform for multi-author sites. I'm thinking back to the LaRocco campaign guest-blogging days and how accounts had to be set up for Congressman LaRocco and his staff. So, this leaves me with the question: What do I do with this blog from here on?

Part of the problem with thematic blogs, in this case a political blog, is that you're limited in your scope. This could have all been avoided had I named this blog something less restricting, but "The Political Game" pretty much announces to anyone entering that they should expect some political analysis. I've tried to broaden the themes here, capturing the analogy of political life and a chess match in the quote from John F. Kennedy that sits atop this blog, while introducing material on subjects other than politics (i.e. baseball, history, music, poetry & literature). There are a few elements that I'm fond of keeping (TGIF Tunes, Smorgasbord Saturday, This Day In History, and Quote of the Day) and then elements that have fizzled out or simply need to be abandoned (Zeb Bell coverage and cross-posting at ArmchairGM). I would like movie/book reviews to return and I would love from This Day In History to be a more common element. I would also like to post music videos, lyrics, baseball commentary and quotes without feeling like I'm cheating readers.

Of course, I will receive some comment from somewhere about this being my blog and my choice and I should write about whatever I so wish. However, that argument isn't necessarily the be-all-end-all. I can write about whatever I so wish, but that doesn't mean what I write about will be interesting to anyone else. My randomness is only quirky and entertaining to a point. A quote I pick out from something I've been reading, a music video of a song I've recently heard or a historical essay on an event that is significant from some particular day in history might be interesting to me, it might put somebody else to sleep! So, now what?

My hope is that what originally drew me to blogging, the intrigue and the need for an outlet for my curiosity, will return. I have held this hope for many months, continuing to write a few substantive pieces here and there to get by, though I haven't seen much of a change in my feelings about blogging. Perhaps I bogged myself down in the negativity of Zeb Bell for too long and lost touch with the parts of blogging that were always positive for me. Whatever the case may be, I hope that I can turn this train around and get it back on the tracks, writing more regularly about issues, people and events.

Just as I am not the student I used to be, I am no longer the writer I used to be. I find myself relying too heavily on the words of others to articulate the feelings I have about current events and life in general. I may have things to say, I am simply having a difficult time converting those things into words. Having spent far too much time observing on a daily basis the most reactionary among us, I lost something of myself. I react, but I do so quietly, often holding in my thoughts and reactions. There must be a happy medium somewhere, a place where I can write about whatever irritates, intrigues or interests me, without the intense reaction from those who may disagree with my words and the friction of what I want and what I have meeting head-to-head every time I post.

As nineteenth century writers may have pleaded, I beg your patience. As a twenty-first century amateur writer struggling to understand why we all have this need, almost naturally as an extension of ourselves, to write about every single thing we think, say, feel or do in so many technological formats (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, mySpace, webcam, Skype, email, text message), please hold on while I try to define what this blog is to and for me and why at one point I felt I had to have this medium to breathe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Not So Scary

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

Watched this on my cell phone while laying on the physical therapy treatment table this morning. How cool is that? Aside from the wide world of technology that I find fascinating, I'm happy to see Colbert take on the issue of how scary Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) is. Roadsinger is pretty mellow. Then again, Yusuf dropped the "Islam" part of his name for this album and that's surely helping his image. Right...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Byrd Hospitalized

My favorite living Democrat (I say this because I mentioned my favorite living Republican recently) was hospitalized over the weekend. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia) was hospitalized Friday afternoon for what appears to be a fever. At 91 years of age, the oldest member of the United States Senate was monitored over the weekend for what is being described as a "minor infection." Senator Byrd is expected to be released in the next few days. This didn't even register on my radar over the weekend. It's unfortunate that Byrd has aged so quickly in the public eye and that Democrats and Republicans alike do not give him the respect he absolutely deserves. My thoughts are with Byrd and two daughters as well as his staff.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That's the feeling."
-- T. E. Lawrence, 5/6/35

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Uneven Playing Field

An update: Manny has apparently talked to his Dodger teammates.

Watching the Dodgers/Phillies match up on ESPN last night, former Cub and now ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe commented, in a conversation about the Manny Ramirez suspension, on how unfair Manny's behavior is to both the Dodgers and Major League Baseball as a whole. Sutcliffe cited the Diamondbacks firing of manager Bob Melvin. Sutcliffe's rationale is essentially this: Had Manny not fired up the Dodgers, led them to the NLCS and served as the catalyst for the Dodger's now powerful offense, the Diamondbacks would have been higher in the standings of the National League West and in the first month of the 2009 season would not have looked nearly as weak in a division overpowered by the Dodgers. The Dodgers resurgence has buried the Diamondbacks and has, if you agree with Sutcliffe, cost Bob Melvin his job.

The discussion surrounding Major League Baseball's fifty-game suspension of Manny Ramirez for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs has created a shock wave of sorts both inside and outside of the league. Manny's suspension has resonated in ways that the breaking news from Sports Illustrated about A-Rod's 2003 steroid use didn't. A few of us watching the Dodgers/Phillies game last night were able to finally understand why--Manny's story is about fairness and the cost of one player's steroid use for his team, the division and the game itself. The story of Alex Rodriguez is simply one of greed.

To put Manny's suspension into perspective, consider the makeup of the Dodgers. There are a handful of veterans, Manny being one of them, that are being watched very closely by a roster of young, up-and-coming phenoms. Guys like James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, are in the most impressionable stage of their career. The younger players in the Dodgers line-up are pure talent, still learning how to use their athletic talent to win ballgames. They look up to Manny and have appreciated his input as they solidify their work ethic and their love for the game. Sure, Manny's bat helped the Dodgers last fall and already this spring, but it was Manny's presence in the clubhouse that helped the Dodgers most. And now those Dodgers who have grown under the leadership of Manny Ramirez are scratching their heads with news that not only did Manny Ramirez use a drug designed to restart the testosterone cycle of someone coming off of steroids, he didn't appeal because he knew he was in the wrong. Additionally, the sting the Dodgers are currently feeling is only perpetuated by Manny's unwillingness to speak to and apologize to his teammates. In less than a week, Manny has gone from being the guy his younger teammates look to for leadership to being the guy they look to with anger and bitterness. It's a horribly unfortunate situation for Joe Torre's Dodgers.

However, the Manny Ramirez suspension hasn't just impacted the clubhouse. The Manny Ramirez suspension has stopped many MLB players in their tracks. Fellow west coast players Torii Hunter and Bengie Molina have written on their respective blogs about what Manny's suspension means to them and what it means to baseball. Torii Hunter, center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, talks about how Manny's suspension means the league is serious about their steroid policy. He notes that Manny has been a player he's respected in his career because of the hard work Manny puts into the game, but he also mentions that "shadow" that will now follow Manny as it does Alex Rodriguez. Former teammate and friend of Ramirez, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, has gone on the record about the suspension saying he was confused by the news and hopes Manny will start talking to clear up the situation. So far Manny has been completely quiet, something that does not bode well for his innocence. Manny has apparently apologized to Frank McCourt, owner of the Dodgers, but has not addressed his team as a whole. His silence speaks louder than any words he could possibly say before a microphone and an audience of reporters.

Maybe baseball as a business and baseball fans in general were naive to think that a slugger like Manny Ramirez would never consider taking steroids to boost his home run production. Keith Olbermann seems to suggest all of it could be slander. Yet, the rest of us are sitting around wondering when we'll hear from Manny. This isn't something that we all can just tag onto the list of things we've simply categorized as "Manny being Manny."

Like Sutcliffe last night, I've always found fairness to be the really unfortunate story buried in the steroid era. Never has this been more evident for me than last night as I watched Juan Pierre take left field as the temporary replacement of suspended Ramirez. Here's a guy who doesn't have much power, but can get on base and has stolen a ridiculous number of bases throughout his career. The only reason Pierre is getting playing time and is on the starting roster for the Dodgers is because Manny Ramirez got caught with a banned substance in his system. Juan Pierre deserves better than that, yet when Manny returns in July, Pierre will go back to the bench and back to being a player hardly anyone in baseball pays attention to anymore. Another Dodger, Rafael Furcal, is talked about rarely and is certainly overshadowed by the power hitters in the Dodger lineup, but here's a guy who has battled his way back from spinal surgery and is back in his position at shortstop running hard and making great plays. He doesn't hit for power and he doesn't boost the score the way guys like Manny do. The once National League Rookie of the Year is no longer considered an all star and he never gets the post-game attention from reporters that his power hitting teammate does.

I can't help but wonder how much more of this baseball fans can take. What is going to be the last straw? Who will have to be outed as a current or past user of performance enhancing drugs for baseball fans to throw in the towel? While big names like Curt Schilling are calling for the release of the other players who, with A-Rod, tested positive for steroids in a confidential test in 2003, some of us cringe at the thought. As a lifelong baseball fan, I was stunned by the allegations in Jose Canseco's book, at least the allegation that steroid use was so widespread in the majors. The one player in that tell-all that shocked me and left me questioning the game I love so much was Rafael Palmeiro. Once a big name in baseball, after his retirement in 2005, we hear nothing of Raffy. The sting of the Mitchell Report was lessened by the book that came before. The news of A-Rod's 2003 use of performance enhancing drugs was no surprise--his excuse, that he was under a lot of pressure to perform at the highest level for the unheard of salary he was making, was the only part that really riled me up. Yet, when I think of the hundred some players that could be on the list of 2003 users, I'm afraid of what that list might reveal. Sure, it isn't fair for one guy to take the heat because a journalist uncovered his name on that list, but it isn't fair to fans to have to go through the awful reading of each of those names, either.

The suspension of Manny Ramirez is not an isolated event. Realizing this, it remains difficult to imagine what another hundred names would do to morale among fans, players and those on the business end of Major League Baseball. No matter how it comes out, the steroid era and all that it entails, is not fair to anyone. The game deserves better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer Reading List

In case you're interested, I've posted my summer reading list in the sidebar. For your convenience, here it is as well (links to each of these titles appear in the sidebar):
  • Assassination Vacation
  • Finger Lickin' Fifteen
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
  • Late Innings
  • Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and The Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill
  • My Father's Tears
  • Run For Your Life
  • Swimsuit
  • Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World
  • The 8th Confession
  • The Deputy
  • The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right
  • The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder
Surely I'll be adding a few more titles as I get settled into my summer schedule.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget."
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "To Constantia, Singing"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Smorgasbord Saturday

What a flippin' Saturday!

I'm not going to have anything to say about Mother's Day tomorrow, but Jill Kuraitis has a piece at New West for those of you who need reminding of what you're supposed to do on Mother's Day. Go read.

Despite it being quite the day, here's a piece of great news: Randy Stapilus has written and published a second edition of Paradox Politics: People and Power in Idaho. Yes! This is a go-to reference for me and I've treasured the first edition. My copy of the updated version is ordered and on its way. Looks like the original source is the best place to get a copy.

Maybe I just don't get it, but what part of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is giving the federal government jurisdiction over all hate crimes? My congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) says that is precisely why he voted no on the hate crimes bill. He's not even opposed to the legislation because it offers protection to gays like so many of his fellow conservatives mount opposition because of. He just wants the feds out of Idaho or at least that's what he's saying to the public. Privately I wouldn't be surprised if his commentary was similar to that of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). Iowa, Idaho. Flip a coin.

Orson Scott Card's Uncle Orson Reviews Everything used to be one of my favorite and most-read websites. I used to check back regularly to see if there was a new piece posted and I'd check and check again until he'd put up his usually weekly column. I found his reviews intriguing and helpful--I once bought some avocado chips that he said were phenomenal and they were. However, I find Card increasingly irritating and I'm not visiting his website as often anymore. Serephin pointed out that Card joined up with the National Organization for Marriage awhile back and it seems to be just one of many things about Card's politics that I find unbearable. I don't want to be reading what I think is a review of The Dark Knight only to be smacked in the face with all the old traditional right-wing definitions of what marriage is and should be. And it gets worse, Orson Scott Card isn't just writing on his site, he's a regular in the Deseret News column pool which sometimes gets picked up on my local news feed, and apparently he's writing for the Mormon Times, some spin-off of the Deseret News specifically for Mormons (isn't the Deseret News specifically for Mormons?), where he's constantly saying things that are beyond off-the-wall. He still believes that homosexuality is a crime and should be punished as such. Not only does he believe that, he says it out loud and people actually listen to him. The National Organization for Marriage has been contending for some time now that it is not homophobic, bigoted, etc., but they can't really believe that teaming up with Card won't paint them as such, can they? When you're on the utmost edge of falling into complete and irreversible bigotry, Orson Scott Card isn't going to help your cause. Card has been removed from my blog roll and my favorites menu bar in Mozilla.

What I find most irritating about the increasing radicalism of Orson Scott Card isn't that his beliefs are completely out there and he has become the poster child of the radical fundamentalist Christan faction of the Republican Party; what irritates me the most is that I used to like the guy. He has an appreciation for literature, writes clever reviews and reacts honestly to the media-oriented products he reviews because he isn't reviewing for any particular publication and doesn't have to keep his opinion close to his vest. Instead of the Orson Scott Card that I used to like, today I get an Orson Scott Card who, on the eve of Mother's Day coincidentally, objects to a beautiful and timeless introductory statement by Tolstoy because unhappy families just don't exist in his perfectly conservative Mormon world. He calls Tolstoy an idiot. Seriously.

Since summer is technically upon us, not necessarily actual summer, but summer break for college students, I thought I'd start putting together my summer reading list. There are a few books I mentioned that I have been putting off reading until I completed my academic obligations, but there are surely also books out there that I don't even have copies of yet and absolutely should read. People talk a lot about e-books and Kindle these days and I must admit as cool as the Kindle looks, I still prefer a good old fashioned book. I like the way a new book smells. I like the way a torn corner or bent edge reminds me of when I read a book and what the book meant to me. I have lots of books and every time I go through them thinking I might be able to part with a few, I find myself reflecting on memories associated with those books. Some people are this way about photographs, I'm this way about books. One book that I really look forward to reading when it is released this summer is John Updike's posthumous My Father's Tears and Other Stories. Updike's latest might even be the spark I need to finally complete a short story project I've been working on for years. No, I'm not writing a short story, I'm writing about short stories. And, I got a copy of the great Dave Neiwart's book, The Eliminationists: How Talk Talk Radicalized the American Right, for my birthday and I have every intention of reading that one soon.

Is it me or are the Palins sending out mixed signals? Just this week, Bristol Palin, the oldest daughter of Governor and former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), signed on to be a national spokesperson for the Candie's Foundation and appeared on the Today show to promote the Eighth Annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. While Bristol Palin is talking about how hard being a mom is one minute, the next she is talking about what a blessing her son is. Meanwhile, Today has Bristol Palin on camera holding her adorable baby and then quoting Todd Palin, Bristol's father, as saying that what Bristol Palin did, having sex and getting pregnant, was a horrible mistake. A blessing and a mistake? Uh-huh. And as if it wasn't already a muddled mess, this is on top of a statement Sarah Palin made some time back essentially confessing to a group against choice that she considered, albeit for a moment, aborting the pregnancy that brought a Down Syndrome son into the world. This is where I depart from the traditional position on abortion. I think it is absolutely awful when I hear of pregnant women who find out by the tests that exist now that can determine genetic flaws that their child will be born with Down Syndrome and abort immediately. Certainly my objection to this is directly related to my love for the developmentally disabled community. Regardless of my feelings about Down Syndrome, Governor Palin said she thought about abortion, but realized as a conservative woman she had to "walk the walk" and practice the anti-abortion position she has been preaching and supporting. With the contradictory statements that come from the Palin bunch, I can't help but wonder if they'd benefit from a publicist of some sort. You know, somebody who could sit them all down with a questionnaire and get their stories straight before any one of them goes on camera. Just a thought. And apparently I'm not the only one who sees the problem with all these mixed signals--the Washington Post "On Faith" page takes on the issue as well.

An article at the Washington Post caught my eye last week and I meant to say something about it prior to now, but haven't remembered or had time. "Getting their (wireless) lines crossed" is a great read for anyone out there who is without either a myspace, Twitter or Facebook account. Do you text? I didn't until recently and I find that I only text two people with any amount of regularity. I've never found texting to be all that simple. I'm a freak when it comes to spelling and texting does not allow for such neurosis. The funny thing is, I don't have much use for a phone at all, I much prefer email regardless of the personal element it subtracts. I don't have a myspace page, my sixteen year old brother does and he finds it rather cool because he can write messages on the pages of celebrities and keep track of his friends while playing cool music on his page and designing it however he likes. I suppose his attraction to myspace over say having a blog is that he doesn't want to write. He wants to be able to say just a little bit more than he would in a text, but not as much as he'd say in an email. Man, it's a complicated world out there! My mom recently discovered Facebook and let me tell you how sick I am of hearing about who is on Facebook! I don't care what so-and-so from that class you took forever ago is doing and how cute the pictures of their kids are on their "wall." And puhlease, stop giving out my phone number to boys I went to elementary school with! I'll never have a Facebook account and I say that knowing that I set up a fake account once just to take a personality test a friend was raving about and I never will go back to Facebook again. Same with myspace. I like music, but I don't like pages that automatically break into song when I load the page. What if at that very moment I was listening to a podcast and missed the most important line of the entire interview with John Updike just because some idiot thinks they need to have Flowrida jammin' out on their myspace page. I'll probably never have a Twitter account either. I'm not into that one-line "I just tied my shoes" sort of announcement. Maybe if I could tie my shoes I'd see the need... As for now, I'm quite content with a blog and an email account that I'm nearly always attached to. I'll leave the texting and tweeting to everyone else. In fact, I'm sure the Guv could take over my personal share of tweeting responsibility. He has, after all, wasted a great deal of time on Twitter lately.

I downloaded the latest release from Yusuf Islam, otherwise known as Cat Stevens, on Tuesday and it is proving to be one of the best releases in 2009 thus far. It's rather interesting that Yusuf is the artist's name as it appears on the album cover (pictured on the right) and throughout the cd insert. On the cover there's an old VW with the universal peace symbol on it and yet he, once on the no-fly list for his ties to Islam (the religion, not his chosen name), has had to
change the way in which he markets himself because on the American market he'd take a hit simply because his name is similar to that which is often associated with terrorist activity. It's a sad world when a peace-lover such as Mr. Stevens has to change his approach to music because people are so closed minded. If you pick up the album, you'll see his sound is much more reminiscent of his early days, the early days of "Peace Train" and "Oh, Very Young." This is definitely an album I'd recommend to anyone and everyone. A little something for every audience.

I was singing the praises of Netflix the other day and I failed to mention that though I didn't have access to the "watch instantly" while I was recovering from back surgery, the dvds at home feature was absolutely a godsend. I watched a good three seasons of The X-Files during my recovery that I owned, but I was able to watch a great deal of television on dvd, shows like Saving Grace and Californication, as well as dozens of movies. And to make a great, afforable service even better, they have a blog. A rather informative blog, at that. Check it out.

That's it for this marathon smorgasbord. Happy Saturday all.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Misinformed Hate

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 has been met with immense criticism from the right. Going so far as to say that the brutal death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay Wyoming man killed in 1998, was a hoax, those opposed to the recently passed legislation are screaming about free speech and shouting from their soap boxes that any legislation passed that protects the minorities included in this bill is infringing their rights at the price of offering special rights to those minorities.

What the far right seems to ignore in all the shouting is that the bill itself isn't offering anyone "extra" rights or an extension of rights, it simply gives the Attorney General of the United States the authority to provide "federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes" related to the carrying out of a hate crime. Perhaps in Idaho, the increasingly libertarian right takes exception to the very wording of this legislation because it defines hate crimes as any crime "motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws." Holding true to their position that the federal government should have a limited role in the laws and general operation of the States, the right may point to Idaho's statute on hate crimes which only defines a hate crime as one motivated by "race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin" and shutter at the attempt of the federal government to expand on that statute. The far right in Idaho see no need for protection based on sexual orientation, gender or disability. Their position either seems to be one of ignorance (i.e. hate crimes perpetuated against gays, lesbians, etc. don't exist here) or one much more cynical in it's perception of what the groups addressed in the federal legislation deserve (i.e. God hates gays, so the State should also and do nothing to protect a "chosen lifestyle"). Much will and has been said over the past several years about gays and whether or not they should be included in hate crime legislation in Idaho, yet nothing seems to surface regarding the necessary protection of the disabled that does not exist here.

While I would hope that my words could speak to the general disagreement between the left and right on what constitutes a hate crime and who should be protected, I find the words of my colleague and professor emeritus at Idaho State University's Eli M. Oboler Library, Leonard Hitchcock, far more important to share. In response to an utterly despicable piece published in the Idaho State Journal and included online in their political blog, Mr. Hitchcock addresses the misinformation campaign that exists regarding the inclusion of gays in the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, otherwise referred to as the Hate Crimes Bill, and how the right has suggested that the legislation stifles speech as well as violence. An extended excerpt:
A great hue and cry has been raised by the radical right regarding the allegedly dire threat to our liberties posed by recent legislation officially known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (hereafter, the Hate Crimes Bill).

The claim being made is that the new federal law, which provides for federal assistance to local, state and tribal law enforcement officials in the investigation and prosecution of suspected hate crimes, is unnecessary, unconstitutional and an attempt to enforce “political correctness,” which an ISJ columnist identifies as “the greatest culprit leading to a degeneration of our culture and diluting our freedom of speech.”

...Anyone who reads the bill will find that it addresses only “crimes of violence,” not occurrences of hate speech or thought...

...Hate crimes pose an unusually serious threat to public order... We all feel a special abhorrence for hate crimes, because their victims are innocent, in just the same way that those in the Twin Towers on 9/11 were innocent.

It’s odd that rightists, who so enjoy venting their rage at terrorists, seem unaware that terrorism is usually a hate crime. Moreover, hate crimes, though they consist in violent acts against individuals, are actually attacks upon groups. They are intended to “send a message,” and that message is “It doesn’t matter whether I know you or not, it doesn’t matter that you’ve done me no harm, it doesn’t matter if you’re a good person or a bad one: all that matters is that you are (black, white, Jewish, atheist, Christian, Tutsi, Mexican….); for that reason alone, you are my enemy and you may be next!”

We all belong to identifiable groups. We all, under the right circumstances, can be victims of hate crimes. Is it any wonder that we establish laws designed to prevent them? And is it any wonder that we become uneasy when we hear religious leaders declare that: “God hates Jews; they killed Christ” or “God hates Christians; they deny Mohammed” or “God hates homosexuals; they disgust Him”? God, as we all know, has often been invoked as an effective ally of those who wish to mobilize human hatred against those who are different.

We do, as a matter of fact, hear such pulpit pronouncements in this country, and we will no doubt continue to hear them. That is testimony to the fact that, though we may pass laws that punish hate crimes, we will not abandon our commitment to Constitutional rights. My advice to the preachers of such messages is, “Please feel free to inform your congregations that God detests gays; but it might be wise to also warn them that if they choose to act out their righteous hatred, they will pay an extra price for doing so.”

Keeping in mind that Mr. Hitchcock is responding to a piece that quoted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) as saying, "Their agenda is to shut down preaching of faith from the pulpit. Their agenda is to force public approval of the homosexual agenda [a]nd destroying marriage nationally is the follow-up piece of this,” and that the columnist praised the Family Research Council that was also quoted as having stated those supporting the Hate Crimes Bill have an "agenda is to shut down preaching of faith from the pulpit...[and] to force public approval of the homosexual agenda. And destroying marriage nationally is the follow-up piece of this,” he was obligated to address the issues of gay rights, free speech and religion, but certainly his position, I'm assuming, and that of many is inclusive of the other minorities that could be targeted by hate crimes.

The author of the first piece has already responded. His comment, available for viewing on the ISJ blog makes sure to point out what he sees as flaws in Mr. Hitchcock's argument:

The more political correctness is “crammed down our throats,” the more it does have an impact on freedom of speech. Even though this “hate crimes” bill provides extra protection to classes of people deemed essentially “protected classes,” the course seems clear to me that restriction on speech, though not codified, is affected nonetheless. It’s legislative incrementalism at its best. Provide extra protection to certain classes of people; expand the definition of what a crime is based on “hate;” thereby allowing broad classes of people from a certain ideological perspective to be identified as belonging to “hate groups,” (i.e. Fundamentalist Christians); and punish or limit such members from using language that is “hate” (i.e. not tolerant to the protected classes) based. This bill is just one more step to enforced political correctness.
The first columnist, Mr. Richard Larsen, was arguing that Congress has no sense of or respect for the Constitution and that they are forcing political correctness on the American people with this bill (how when the bill does not ask the American people to do a thing and simply offers authority to the Attorney General, is another matter). I find it quite interesting that he attempts to define hatred as an intolerance for minorities, or as he calls them "protected classes" in his response as if to say that others might be intolerant, yet he expresses an amount of disdain regularly for the columns of Mr. Hitchcock, an Atheist, which he would never consider hate, but the rest of us keeping score at home certainly would consider hate. Perhaps Mr. Larsen is carrying on about hate and intolerance because he himself is guilty. I certainly believe so. What is it they say--he doth protest too much?

While Virginia Foxx is carrying on about a hoax, Steve King is crying about a Congress that he holds membership in cramming a lifestyle down our throats, and Richard Larsen is spreading lies that appear to be full of hatred for members of his own community, some of us are watching this and wondering why the right has latched onto their hatred of gays and opposed legislation that makes mention of them as a group when in all reality if they looked around in their immediate and extended families they'd surely find someone who could easily be a victim of a hate crime. In my own family, I think of my two siblings who are developmentally disabled and know that in other places in this country and all over the world people just like them have been beaten and killed simply because they don't function at the level of most. I think of those I live with and care for at an assisted living facility and wonder how much of the hatred they must deal with from members of the community on a daily basis could easily turn violent. They, like all of the other minorities addressed in this hate crimes legislation, are not tolerated by many, simply because they look a little different, act a little different and maybe have a different set of beliefs. That's the reality that men and women like Virginia Foxx, Steve King and Richard Larsen have lost sight of. And thankfully, Mr. Hitchcock is cognizant of this and is just as willing as I am to say so.

(Editor's Note: The text of "A reality check on the Hate Crimes Bill" by Leonard Hitchcock was used with the author's permission.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Middle of the Week Mélange

It looks like the never ending legislative session may in fact end soon. This ridiculous power struggle makes about as much sense to me as ole Governor Otter sending out his henchmen to shut down Twitter accounts...

In other afternoon news, I'm sitting here awaiting Wednesday night baseball on ESPN (thankfully not rained out because I need a little baseball in my life today) and I'm hearing that the Minnesota Vikings might want Brett Favre. I don't know anything about football and I certainly don't care to learn, but even I've had enough of the Brett Favre story. Retire already. For real.

Yesterday I was exploring the options available to me in this blogging platform, Blogger, and I noticed a link to Plinky. What's Plinky? Well, I didn't know either, but it appears to offer a prompt every day for those of us who are topic challenged. Seems like people are using Plinky to keep some blogs afloat and some just use it when they haven't had a decent post in weeks because they're swamped (or annoying with Rep. Virginia Foxx, as the case may be). Some of the prompts are rather clever--things like yesterday's "If the shoes make the man (or woman), what do your shoes say about you right now?" and today's "What musicians would you like to see join together to form a new band?" Interesting. Some days there are deep prompts, some days not so much. And for those of us struggling in the creative, original, sit down and write the stuff you've had stacked up for weeks department, might be worth a shot.

I am completely addicted to the "watch instantly" feature offered by Netflix. I wish they had as many choices available to watch online as they do that can be sent to your house, but given that as a Mac user I was unable to use the watch instantly feature up until a few months ago, I'm not going to complain. My watch instantly queue is stocked with numerous films I've been meaning to watch and just haven't gotten around to or overlooked in the films I had sent to me because new releases were a higher priority. I find myself watching a lot of movies these days at three and four in the morning when the only thing on basic cable is infomercials. It's brilliant. Thank you, Netflix!

I hear my old stomping grounds will be home to National Guard training exercises this weekend. What are they publicizing? That there will be paint guns. It's always bothered me that the Idaho National Guard uses "big boys toys" to bring in recruits. If it isn't paint ball guns it's the helicopter they bring to college campuses for recruiting and the tanks or hummers you see at county fairs all over the state. I don't know what the alternative is, but using testosterone and the ploy of bigger toys as a recruiting tactic just doesn't seem right to me.

If you live in Pocatello, maybe you share this sentiment--what is with the continuous construction projects? There was an article in the Idaho State Journal this morning about the I-15 project and I immediately wondered how long it will be until we see a summer without any I-15 projects. It's beginning to be as predictable as the Benton Street overpass repairs...every single summer.

I tend to send myself links to articles I'd like to link to, write about, etc. and at the moment I have a collection of them in my inbox, but I'm going to save them for Saturday's smorgasbord. They are more political in nature than what I've linked to here. That's all for now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Odds & Ends (Literally)

Have you ever tried to sing under water? I'm fairly convinced that attempting to write while on pain medication is precisely that difficult. I recently wrote the three worst academic/scholarly papers I've ever written in my collegiate career. I somehow envisioned that I would get better with time, not bottom out in the last class (well, a class I didn't finish nearly a year ago when this back nightmare began) I'll ever take at ISU! However, I'm done. Completely done with my academic career at ISU and it feels, well, rather odd.

The last time I thought I was completely done with ISU and annouced as much, I ended up enrolled at ISU for two more semesters so I could have health insurance while I underwent and recovered from spinal surgery. Perhaps I should be knocking on wood or living in a bubble at this point.

Of course, I have other academic things that will now require the time I was previously spending on coursework. Graduate school applications, a GRE retake, and a class I've been attempting to get credit for through BYU for what seems like a lifetime now. I'm saving the great celebration for the day I have some idea of what the hell I'm going to do with my life now. No, I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, while I contemplate my future, wait for some school somewhere to say they want me, and continue this ridiculous recovering from back surgery process, I think I'll pick up a book or two that I just want to read for the hell of it. You know what that means? I don't have to read anything academic or historic. Period. I've already picked up a copy of the latest installment in James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series, The 8th Confession, which reminds me that I still haven't read his Run for Your Life, and now that I have a little more time on my hands I can spend some of it flipping through the soon-to-be out-of-date guide to the Supreme Court a good friend hooked me up with. New music is on my horizon as well since one Yusuf Islam, known to most by Cat Stevens, has a new CD out today. I'm glad he could take a break from complaining about Coldplay to issue me something new. I'm sure he really gives a damn what I want...

In addition to my inability to write anything of scholarly substance, I find myself unable to write anything of political substance, either. I've sat down to the computer many a time to write about Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), only to delete what I've written in irritation, close out the window, and then swear off the blog for another day. A hoax, my ass.

Oh, and one last point while my head is clear and my fingers are nimble--there are going to be some design changes around here in the coming weeks. Hopefully, if I can figure out how, I'll have this header and the header that existed prior to it available for viewing somewhere and there'll be a brand spanking new header that somehow encorporates the newly created favicon that sure doesn't make much sense otherwise. Haven't designed the new header yet and the all-knowing computer wrangler, Teresa, is graduating in two weeks, so it all depends on when she's up for a little blog chaos. Until then, check out the sidebar editions and changes.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's Time

Last week I missed the chance at a smorgasbord and this week, you'll have to forgive me, I'm passing on the weekly ritual of posting commentary on every random thing that has caught my attention throughout the week. For everything this week was, it certainly wasn't gentle.

Next week I'll turn twenty-four and though this isn't a milestone by most definitions, it's a milestone in that twenty-three was horrific and the end of twenty-three is the end of a lot of things for me.

Somehow my birthday has always fallen during finals week of spring semester, this year finals week symbolizes the absolute end to my academic tenure at Idaho State University. I say "the absolute end" because there have been plenty of times I thought I was done here only to end up enrolled again. This time I really am done. This time I really am moving on. Where is the only question that remains.

I've thought a great deal about ISU as an institution recently, but ISU isn't just an institution or a symbol for me. It represent a time in my life that I wouldn't trade for the world. I wouldn't trade the relationships I've cultivated here for anything in the world. And I wouldn't trade what I've learned here for anything. This was evident to me this morning when I received an email from a former professor, now retiring, who reminded me just how wonderful the people here are. There's a special place in my heart for this man. Even his brilliance couldn't overcome my geography ignorance. Even his command of Latin couldn't talk me out of applying German endings to Latin words. I must have been a chore for him. But he hasn't forgotten me which makes me think maybe I wasn't such a bad student after all.

There are plenty of people at ISU that I will remain attached to wherever I go and there are some who have left ISU already and I remain close to them despite the distance between us. I have a colleague now who has become a fatherly figure of sorts for me. His intelligence, easily the most knowledgeable person I've ever met, has stretched my own and has made me want to know more, read more, be more. His friendship will follow me anywhere. A former English professor, whom I've written about directly and indirectly here for years, remains a wonderful support and friend. I was in the middle of a phone interview recently and one of the questions asked was what collegiate course has been my favorite. Without hesitation I could point to my composition course as not only my favorite course, but the course that has left the longest lasting impact on me, both as a writer and student as well as simply the person I am. I chose that class randomly out of the dozen or more instructors who teach composition here, but as I think about it more and more it seems that course chose me.

This week as I was getting my ducks in a row, as they say, and preparing graduate school applications, I received a draft of a letter of recommendation from my academic advisor. She, admittedly, is "hopelessly biased." I thank God she is. As an academic advisor she has shaped the historian I am, she has pushed me in all the right directions, challenging me in ways I couldn't begin to describe, and offering me opportunity after opportunity that I'll be thanking her for the rest of my life. She has been gentle when I clearly needed a little support and a lot of patience. She has been firm, as firm as I imagine this woman ever can be, when I've needed the prodding that has forced me through struggles and situations I didn't appreciate at the time. As a friend, this woman has saved me from myself more than I care to admit. And in the past year as I've battled the largest health barrier of my young life, she has been supportive and understanding of my limitations. I think back to the days before she was my academic advisor and I see how hopelessly I drifted at times, I'm amazed that the student I was then continued on and became the student I am now. More importantly I think back to the days before she was my friend and I am incredibly thankful that she took me under her wing and gave me the gentle nudge to make something of myself and my life.

From time to time I find myself wading through sentiment and the warm memories I have of this place and wonder how anything can possibly top my time here at ISU. Then I am reminded of the red tape and bureaucracy I've battled here and I laugh at the thought of ever encountering an institution greater in their ability to weigh students down in unnecessary administrative burden. I have never fit some predetermined mold of what a student should be. My goals and aspirations have never matched or mirrored those of my classmates. I've always wanted a little bit more out of my education than simply a piece of paper that says I earned a degree. Now I find myself with all of the lessons I wanted out of my education and plenty more that I didn't ask for, wanting simply that piece of paper that says I, too, jumped through the hoops and earned a degree.

I've stopped being the student here that I know I can be. This is in part due to a year of health struggles, eventually leading to spinal surgery and everything that comes with the recovery, regressing and eventual progressing associated with the surgery itself. However, I think the student that I've been this year has also been bogged down in the frustrations of not having a program available to me here that suits my needs, wants and academic desires. Without question, the student that I've been this past year has been ultimately immersed and distracted by a project that no undergraduate should ever attempt on their own--the Stallings Collection. As I move on, a part of me will always stay here with the collection. I've put far more into this collection than my time and at times my resources. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Two or three years ago I may have quoted Goethe in a rather zealous way, pointing to the "mehr licht" quotation that greeted all students who entered my English professor's office. Now I find myself quoting Goethe still, but in a whole different tone: "Ich finde, dass die große Sache in dieser Welt, nicht soviel, wo wir stehen, wie ist in, welcher Richtung wir verschieben." Basically, Goethe is saying that he finds the great thing in this world to be, not so much where we stand, as much as in what direction we are moving.

While I sentimentally close a chapter in my life as finals week approaches and my twenty-third year closes, my twenty-fourth birthday approaching not a moment too soon, I am more than happy to be moving on. It's time.

Lyrical History

(*Editor's note: I couldn't decide on a single song for TGIF Tunes, which has more to do with how tired I was yesterday and less to do with a lack of options, so I'll return to that feature next Friday.)

I've always found it fascinating when popular music attempts to take an historical event and tell it to a new generation. My kid brother pointed out this song to me and I find it not only historically accurate, but rather poignant at a time when xenophobia and racism is plastered on evening news stories about the origination of the swine flu. Please watch this video and share it with your friends.

h/t: Adam