Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mark responds

First of all, how I even found this blog: Your basic followed links from a friend, followed those links and etc, somehow ended up here a while back and again recently.

Didn't mean to hit quite that hard of a nerve, still not sure why you have reacted so strongly. I didn't make the point I was hoping to make very well, here is what I really meant...

Based upon what I'd read in your blog, it seemed clear, to me at least, that you would never vote for McCain, quite the contrary, I'd expected you to be a rather enthusiastic Obama supporter. So, to read that something caused McCain to lose your vote seemed out of place, given that I never believed he had your vote in the first place. What you wrote seemed more like an excuse to not vote for him versus a reason. In some sense it seemed like you weren't being honest with yourself, when it seems so clear to me that you'd never really vote for McCain anyway.

The point had nothing, in substance, to do with comparing abortion to torture (but not possible to tell from my short comment) and the paradox that seems obvious; given that you embrace abortion, at least to some extent, but have zero tolerance for torture.

If I am mistaken and McCain truly did lose your vote, let me recommend looking to a third party candidate. I haven't voted for a major party Presidential candidate in many elections. There is a profound psychological barrier that causes us to want to vote for a winner, that if more people could overcome, the tight grip of the major two parties could be freed, I can only dream that could ever happen!

First, thank you, Mark, for giving me a second try. I do have strong feelings on these subjects, but you bit the bullet and wrote some more. Between watching Obama speak tonight and your comments, I've had a few more thoughts.

It is true that I have been a Democrat for a while now. A perusal of the posts tagged "politics" on this blog makes that clear. And it's true that I probably would have voted against another Republican administration even before having any specific beefs with their Presidential candidate. If the Democrats had put out a real dog, maybe I would have reconsidered. (Was Edwards a dog for cheating on his wife and lying about it to the press? I don't know.)

I have been listening to the Denver convention speeches off and on. One thing that really surprised me was hearing the critiques of the Bush Administration. They started to really move me, even bring tears to my eyes. It wasn't because I am enthralled by fully funding Headstart (which is nevertheless a good idea). It's because I started to realize that the Bush Administration will really be over. I feel profoundly tired of Bush, not just because he had terrorists in prisons tortured (and whoops, some of those terrorists turned out to be innocent nobodies caught up in random sweeps). My brain gets fried just thinking about the endless list... * Okay, that's totally derailing my train of thought.

I've been positive about Obama since I read this blog post. I preferred him to Clinton in the primaries, certainly. So it's true John McCain would have had an uphill struggle for my vote from the start.

But there's a difference between failing to win my vote and flushing it down the toilet, and that's what John McCain did with his position on torture.

A few months ago I went over McCain's cynical flip-flop on torture. The comparison of his position today (google [mccain torture] for an endless series of articles) and his editorial of 2005, neatly interwoven with lessons from his POW experience, should convince any disinterested observer that he has abandoned his principles on torture.

Why did I care so much? Here's one answer, an old editorial from 2005 that sums it up well, I think. Not torturing people should be a no-brainer for all of us. It's cruel and unusual. It victimizes both the torturer and the tortured. It turns human dignity inside out. And in the case of our prisoners, it's done to people who are completely helpless to harm us.

Not institutionalizing the torture of people should be even more obvious. Not normalizing torture in the public discourse as one option among many for dealing with foreign POWs... how did we even get to this point? It's like waking up one morning to find that the city government has reinstituted human sacrifices to Moloch, or that they're serving human brains at the diner. Every time I write about this, I feel crazy that we are even discussing it.

All that said, why react so strongly when Mark called partial-birth abortion torture and said I would probably find it in my heart to forgive Obama for holding pro-choice positions, even though I couldn't for John McCain? I think it's because I read an accusation that I was being inconsistent into Mark's comment. That is, I care about torture issues when it suits me and ignore them when it doesn't. It's OK If You're A Democrat. I take that personally because I have integrity and I want to be consistent, especially on the thoughts and issues that actually mean something to me.

I will say that I think the issues are different in kind. Torture is a black-and-white moral issue that cuts across political party, moral upbringing, geography. Before George W Bush practically everyone held very strong feelings against it. It is basically a crime against our common humanity. Now something like half hold the same feelings and the other half concoct excuses, but the same moral revulsion is hanging around.

Abortion, on the other hand, pits the life and dignity of the mother against the life and dignity of the fetus. There is a grey area here that is not going to go away (until we can switch on and off our fertility at will, or bring babies to term in artificial womb machines; see Lois McMaster Bujold's sf for more of this bewildering future). People disagree honestly and in good faith about what should be legal and illegal when it comes to it.

Here's Obama's position on partial-birth abortion, close to my own. It's a legitimate compromise in circumstances where people disagree.
On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that.

Part of the reason they didn't have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.

As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don't think that's any Republican out there who I've worked with who would say that I don't listen to them, I don't respect their ideas, I don't understand their perspective. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we're always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.
Source: Fox News Sunday: 2008 presidential race interview Apr 27, 2008 (link)

When I read something like that, I understand that it's a messy compromise that has to be struck in our pluralist society. Partial-birth abortion restrictions without exceptions for the life of the mother amount to demanding that other people immolate themselves on the altar of our principles. I don't think it's clear that we can or should make that demand, much less enshrine it in law. I would hardly call this an embrace of abortion, but I'll let it stand. I am not a fan of abortion, but I am a fan of leaving abortions legal.

When I compare issues like the normalization of torture and the legalization of abortion, I see a large difference of kind. If you don't, maybe we'll agree to disagree. Anyhow, that's my take on whether or not Obama would lose my vote for his partial-birth abortion stance, owing to my strong objections to torture: No. But no hard feelings, I was glad to articulate that and think about it.

There's also a question here about whether I am a one-issue voter. Have I lost my objectivity? Am I being narrow-minded? Well, if it comes to that, I feel happy with an Obama vote for many reasons, and unhappy with a McCain vote for other reasons. Mark is right, though, that I might be rationalizing here... maybe I think McCain's age is the real issue, which prejudice might reflect badly on me, but this torture thing provides a good cover for my real motives. Maybe that is less plausible now that you've got an idea of what I think about this.

Instead, I think the torture flipflop provides a window onto his character. It is located in a constellation of similar panders and locksteps by McCain, which make me all the more sure that he has abandoned his principles here. It is simply a catastrophe of misjudgment, magnified by his own experience at the hands of his torturers.

The way I see it, if you need more examples, they exist... but that one is enough for me.

As for voting for a third-party candidate...
From the sky comes a scream, as Homer is crashing right into the Capitol. A few footsteps later, he comes running down the stairs.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them]
[audience gasps in terror]
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
Man1: He's right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.
[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]
[Ross Perot smashes his "Perot 96" hat]

The next day, Kodos announces the result: "All hail, President Kang."

The field in front of the Capitol has now become a working ground where humans are whipped by aliens and used to carry materials.

The Simpsons family is working too, with Homer and the kids carrying wood, and Marge pushing a wheelbarrow of cinderblocks -- with Maggie on top.

Marge: I don't understand why we have to build a ray gun to aim at a planet I never even heard of.
Homer: Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

I think the best way to fix this is to fix the system so third parties have an easier time getting a foothold, for instance by lowering the vote threshold (5%, as this article on Nader mentions in passing) for parties to qualify for federal public funding of their campaigns. But being in the swing state of Colorado, I just can't afford to risk my vote on electing the Republican by default, not this time around... and besides, I think Obama will do a good job.

Hopefully that is not too much bloviating... we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog. And thanks again to Mark for raising the level of the discourse.

* US attorneys getting fired for political reasons (even during active investigations of the people they were getting fired by!?), refusing clearances to OPM lawyers investigating the executive branch, burning a CIA agent working on nuclear nonproliferation issues, and that to get revenge against someone who called BS on their case for going to war, aides stonewalling in contempt of Congress, the unitary theory of executive power, signing statements defying the rule of law, not to mention the shifting and ultimately groundless arguments for invading and occupying a country preemptively, the Katrina debacle, committing multiple felonies by illegally wiretapping internet and phone traffic in contravention of FISA... and those are just the lowlights that come immediately to mind. Wasn't there some stuff about illegal propaganda from the Pentagon? Illegal hiring practices at DOE? Missing emails not turned over? Abramoff? Using off-the-reservation email accounts... it just doesn't stop...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Keeping it quick

  • I've been continuing with Okami. It's very entertaining.
  • I biked out to the library on Saturday. I got a few more CDs and those books, then read Stephen King in an easy chair. I headed out just as a thunderstorm was moving in. I had a good time, a little peaceful spot.
  • I finished Christine. I won't spoil the ending. King got back to form, it is way better than Cujo. But I have a feeling I'm about to see a ton of books (along my chronology, I've got from 1983 till 1989, Misery) that are King working out metaphors for the damage his drug abuse was doing to his family. I don't think it's exactly transparent, but it definitely colors my reading...
  • I put up the books I'm reading on my whiteboard at work. I'm kind of relieved to be able to erase Christine when I get in tomorrow, because I have a coworker named Christine and it must have looked a little strange.
  • Up next, still doing The Way of the World by Ron Suskind. I also have a Stross book that eluded me, The Jennifer Morgue, which is more "James Bond meets HP Lovecraft". And I picked up the start of a newish series by Lois McMaster Bujold that I just hadn't gotten around to. The series is called The Sharing Knife, and the first book is called Beguilement.
  • I watched the Star Wars CG film The Clone Wars tonight. It ends a little abruptly, and for all the exposition, it is actually a little tough for me to locate it in context in the storyline. The graphics were great, the dialog was ok if a little obvious at times. It was mostly fun as a chance to get out with Chuck, who is a guy I know via Sarah's friend Laura (his wife). We should do stuff like that more often.
  • I loaned Chuck a few Bujold books: Cordelia's Honor, The Warrior's Apprentice, and The Curse of Chalion. Here's to another addict! I had no clue until recently that he reads fantasy.
  • A dude named Mark (no forwarding address) commented on the last post. I do not know if I consider his comment particularly edifying or not. And my comment back is not so great.
  • My basic argument is this: we want a president who will respect the rule of law. The last eight years have taught us how valuable that would be. Whether you agree or disagree on this issue or that issue with the president, you can rest assured that the president will preserve the laws that we have by proxy all agreed upon. The president will not attempt to shirk his responsibilities under the law or rewrite them by illegal action or inaction. The president will not play cowboy politics with people's lives.
  • And the president will not torture people, even our enemies. The president will not attempt to move prisoners to so-called law-free zones like Camp X-Ray or give them law-free status like "enemy combatant". I think it's plain that what our soldiers are not allowed to do by the Geneva Conventions, even in situations of extreme duress like "under enemy attack in combat zones", our spies and politicians should not be allowed to do in well-appointed offices in cold blood, before they go out for cocktails and cigars with their lobbyist buddies and friends in the press.
  • Like I told Mark, the United States needs a moral compass. We need a sense of mission untainted by what the devilish have done in the name of America. For me, torture represents a clear line to draw, and it is just as obvious that John McCain is not willing to draw it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


  • Series 2 of The Office UK: seriously vulgar, but the episode with the motivational speech was totally off the hook.
  • Andrew Sullivan pointed out something very provocative about John McCain's experience as a POW in Vietnam: he was never tortured. Read the link, it's pretty short, if you believe there is any controversy there.
  • McCain's flip-flop on the Military Commissions Act, condoning the torture status quo, lost him my vote. There is no place in a sane, civilized world for legalized torture. Period.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Media redux

  • I think I need to start properly italicizing my book/movie posts. Not following the convention has finally gotten to me again.
  • Nobody told me Bridge to Terabithia was like it was. I wonder what parents took their kids on opening weekend, only to find out what it really was. For the record, I think it was pretty good, but I'm not sure yet if it was cheating. And the book is probably better...
  • We watched Dan in Real Life once again. It slays me every time. There is an amazing economy of motion. It's hilarious. It's true. Steve Carell is the man.
  • I finally finished The Pearl. I wish people would make their critical Prefaces into Postfaces so there are NO SPOILERS BEFORE THE STORY BEGINS. When you are flipping through trying to find page one, these are the worst possible things to stand in your way. They are like the soundtrack preview just before the DVD main menu. In the immortal words of Frank Costanza:
"HeyHeyHey ComeOn ComeOn! I haven't seen it yet!"

"It doesn't have anything to do with the plot."

"Still, still. I like to go in Fresh."
  • So I will not ruin the story. It was exquisitely written. I don't think I've read or heard any Steinbeck since Ms Backen read us Of Mice and Men in the 8th grade. I've never read The Grapes of Wrath, is that unbelievable? Like Stephen King, I am now looking forward to reading the rest of his oeuvre, starting again with Of Mice and Men, which I bought at the library sale.
  • Speaking of Mr King, the last we left him, he was writing himself into a book ostensibly about a rabid dog killing people indiscriminately, which I read as a book about his drug addiction destroying his family, and he had republished his long stories in Different Seasons, which contains not one but three stories made into movies. Now he's back on his ground in my opinion, writing in 1983 about a loser teenager named Arnie Cunningham, and his beat-up Plymouth, Christine. I had seen the trailer, so I knew this was about a car gone horribly wrong. I was expecting Cujo with a chrome bumper, I have been pleasantly surprised. And as always, when King is at his best, he isn't doing allegory. He is doing a story that is somehow weightier than its logline. Sure, it's about a demonic car (50 pages in, all signs point that way). But it is about a lot more than that.
  • I snuck into the hold line and scored a copy of The Way of the World, by Ron Suskind. Ron Suskind, if you'll recall, wrote two extremely important books about the Bush Administration. I wrote about The One Percent Doctrine earlier, which was an examination of something like the inner workings of the war on terror, and The Price of Loyalty, which was about Bush's domestic policy as seen through the eyes of Paul O'Neill. The only reason I haven't read very far is that I always seem to be about to eat something when I think of reading it. It's brand new and I don't want to get soup, condiments, or salty snack remains on it. From the news reports, this is the book that contains a fairly detailed account of Tahir_Jalil_Habbush_al-Tikriti, an Iraqi intelligence official, forging a document alleging false links between al-Qaeda and Iraq at the request of the Bush Administration. Let me say that twice: in order to prop up support for the then-underway invasion of Iraq, fantasists at the White House planted a document in order to retcon the justifications for the war. And he has the transcripts to prove it. But it also seems to be about the post-9/11, post-Bush future that we will collectively create. I am looking forward to both that future and this book's treatment of it.
  • Sarah and I just freed a bunny. It fell down a window well by our basement. It was scared, and would not climb up a piece of lattice we stuck down there. So, I climbed into the window well with a cardboard box, cornered the bunny and got it to go into the box, then lifted it out to safety.
  • I had a total score at the library and checked out Okami, a Nintendo Wii game. (I also found a klezmer band interpreting unpublished lyrics of Woody Guthrie: Wonder Wheel, by The Klezmatics, but if I talked about every great CD I found at the library, this would turn into a great CDs from the library blog. An improvement over the current content...) It is tiding me over until Spore comes out on September 7 (at which point, all bets are off).
  • But what a game. In Okami, you are Amaterasu Okami, the Shinto goddess of nature. (Shinto being a nature religion, this puts you at the top of the world.) You have been incarnated as a white wolf who, one hundred years ago, beat back the eight-headed dragon Orochi and sealed it in the Moon Cave, saving the world. Now, Orochi's prison has been unsealed, and the evil miasma of its presence wreaks devastation across the land of Nippon. Your mission is to use the power of calligraphy to restore the natural beauty of the environment.
  • This is an older game, having previously come out for Playstation at least, but it really shines on the Wii. The game cries out constantly for you to manipulate it with the power of your brush. Trees bloom, lily pads sprout, boulders slice in half as a result of your drawing. You feed the animals so they love you and restore the land (and also, on a somewhat heart-tugging level, because you are Mother Nature and that's just what you do). The mythology was foreign to me, but it's note-perfect, completely consistent. The dialogue is well-translated and human.
  • And the graphics are unreal. Every screen seems like a work of art. It's cel-shaded and fulsome, filled with falling cherry blossoms and stylized splashes. It takes up Japanese iconography, where a few lines represent a mountain, or the blazing sun is the familiar circle surrounded by stripes. The ink, due to the Wii remote's sensitivity to distance, feels like it's dripping on the screen. There are countless little details in the characterization, the landscape... even the menus are full of little touches.
  • If anybody asks you if video games are art, tell them to try Okami. It's not just great fun (if a little linear, but like you care, what a story; be prepared for it to be extremely Japanese though), it's over-the-top beautiful. The most interesting thing about its beauty, though, is that so much of it is derived from the interactivity. This wouldn't be nearly as good as a story about Okami, or a movie. The whole point of the thing is that you are the one reshaping and renewing the world, everything responds to you.
  • Work has been going pretty well. We are finally coming to the end of our cycle. We're actually in pretty good shape on my portion of the project (I was in charge of a decent-sized piece that I and approximately one and a half people have been working on), so I'm starting to look past what we've got and think about what's next. The delivery ate up a lot of my summer break, so I'm hoping the fall will be relaxing and rewarding for the family.
  • My son is back in preschool, so Sarah has more time on her own. I think it is making her think useful, deep thoughts about the future. Whenever she is free to be herself, even for a few hours a day, these ideas bubble up. I am excited for what the future holds as well...
  • PS, the bullet points seem to work, so I might stick to them for a while. They help me pretend I am just jotting things down, not inserting 500-word video game reviews into the middle of What I Did Last Week.
  • PPS The coolest Olympic thing I have seen so far is the badminton final. That guy was totally amazing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Every Word We Say Is True

It's a little unfair for me to inflict this on you, but I've got to get it out and move on. I wrote the first words for this song in May 2007 and I just can't make anything new without finishing it.

So there is a second draft sitting in the music player at left. I didn't have time to get in fancy instruments or anything. That's life.

Every Word We Say Is True

I've been talking with your ghost. She is friendly, as you know.
On the day you had to go, she started speaking almost clearly.
No, she doesn't have your eyes. I'm beginning to forget that and more.
But if time will not restore, I'll tell myself the lies sincerely.

She's still saying that you loved me.
I'm still saying that I knew.
Every word we say is true.

You've been living in my dreams, black and white and shades of gray,
And our scene is here to stay. Let words redeem, former times pass away.
For illusion though you are, every line I still will trace
When I meet you in that place. I'll see your star. I'll know the way.

Where you're saying that you love me,
And I say I love you too.
Every word we say is true.

We've walked far in foreign lands, talking strange to strangers' ears.
Faces blank, we shroud in years the dead demands of memory.
Our hands approach but never meet. Mirrors touch, but never touch.
I want to hear your voice so much, unbearable, sweet, and free.

If I whisper that I love you
With a love we never knew,
Would you want it to be true?
By the way, I have mixed feelings about punctuating lyrics and poetry. I feel like it eliminates some of the double meanings and possible interpretations, and thus some fun for the reader/listener.