Archive for December, 2008

Programming note:

Light posting over the holidays.  Also, abnormally wistful, sanguine stuff.  After the New Year, expect a return to godfuckingdammit what is the government DOING? Don’t worry, it’ll be back.

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Inspiring holiday stuff

Gainesville State School is located 75 miles north of Dallas, next to a town of 15,000.  It was originally a girls’ school, but became co-ed in1974 and eventually all-male in 1988.  The school offers courses in agriculture, horticulture, welding, and business in addition to the standard high school curriculum.

Gainesville State is also a maximum-security youth prison facility.  Incoming students are an average of three years below grade level in reading and four years behind in math, and less than 30% will return to High School upon re-entry into society.

The school has a football team.  Lacking adequate practice time, space, and equipment, the Gainesville State Tornadoes are understandably lousy.  Up against prep school teams with involved parents, endless resources, and home field advantage, Gainesville scored a total of two touchdowns en route to a miserable 0-8 start.

Kris Hogan is head football coach at Grapevine Faith, a Christian school located just outside Dallas.  The Grapevine Lions are high priests in the Texas Football Temple (services Friday evening like Jews).  The Lions made the state title game in 2007, and returned this season with a strong 7-2 record.

Coach Hogan decided to do a good turn for the boys from Gainesville.  With the overmatched prison team on the schedule for the season finale, Hogan emailed team parents and fans requesting that half the group cheer for the visitors.  “Here’s the message I want you to send,” he wrote: “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”  Faced with understandably confused parents and players, he stuck to his concept:  “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

Hogan’s commitment converted the unbelievers.  Some 200 hometown fans, approximately half the crowd, sat in the visitors’ bleachers cheering for Gainesville State.  Additionally, for probably the first time in football history, the road team was met with a spirit line, banner to run through, and dedicated cheerleading squad.

Other schools have done things for Gainesville, including providing the students with meals and small gifts.  However, no one had ever given them a cheering section.  It meant a lot more than some trinkets or a snack.  As a Tornadoes lineman explained:  “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games.  You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”

This wasn’t The Longest Yard. Gainesville was severely overmatched, and Faith went up 33-0 to start the game.  Eventually, however, Gainesville managed two touchdowns on the day on which three of their players had been cut from the team; released from prison.

The score didn’t matter.  In another football first, the head coach of the losing team was doused with Gatorade:

I know people who teach in the prison system, including both maximum-security adult prisons and facilities like Gainesville for youth offenders.  Sadly, adult offenders including those serving lifetime sentences often have better access to educational programs than seventeen-year old first-time offenders who should still have their whole lives ahead of them.  In New York State, this is partly the understandable legacy of Attica and partly due to the fact that D.O.C.S. is its own agency whereas underage offenders are folded into the Office of Children and Family Services.  (I’d be curious if anyone has had any experience with other states; feel free to post in the comments.  New York is actually regarded as one of the best prison systems in the country for adults, in terms of rehabilitation, security for both prisoners and staff, and a relative lack of gang activity.)

The boys on the Gainesville squad are not unrepentant thugs, not inherently violent kids, not the simple stereotypes too often assigned to convicts.  Only those who have served at least half of their sentence, passed all of their classes, and maintained spotless behavioral records are allowed on the team.  Gainesville State head coach Mark Williams explained the importance of seeing his players in human, humane terms:

“A lot of these kids don’t have hope because they’ve taken a wrong path, somebody’s told them that they’re going to be negative,” he said. “They’re not negative. They were very positive tonight. They were just like the other kids.”

After four quarters of football, the winning players greeted their parents and friends while the losing team returned to their bus under watch by a dozen armed guards.  Before the game, and ten minutes from the final whistle, the Gainesville State Tornadoes were faceless statistics in America’s best growth industry.  For 60 minutes, as Gainesville superintendent Gwan Hawthorne put it, the boys “[felt] like any other high school football team.”

A winless season never ended so well.

(For more on this story, see Rick Reilly’s detailed account and the Waco Tribune‘s local coverage.)

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There are many things I love about Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia, their tastier-than-American McDs, the Catalan nationalist, the shopping. My god, the shopping. My little yankee heart did back flips at the sight of a topshop next door to my hotel and damn near exploded when I counted not one, not two, but four Zaras within spitting distance.

It seems another of my darling Spanish retailers Mango is setting up shop in the Kurdish city of Arbil, making them the first international retail brand to set up shop in post-invasion Iraq. It won’t be their usual assortment of liquid leggings and lively print mini dresses inspired by Penelope Cruz, however. They’re working with Zuhair Murad to create spiffy cover-ups so that none of their customers are harassed over immodesty.

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Readers of the Times could be mistaken for thinking it’s 1992.  What with Ross Perot back in action and a Bush leaving Washington, you can practically bust out the House of Pain.  Sir Thomas Friedman, bearer of the Mustache of Understanding and inspiration for the eponymous Friedman Unit (FU), takes this nonsense to its logical conclusion:
Op-Ed Columnist

China to the Rescue? Not!

Published: December 20, 2008

The prominant pundit on all things has unearthed the 1992 Word of the Year.  (The ADS lists are actually fascinating:  “snail mail” did succeed, “ethnic cleansing” earned its stripes immediately, and “Munchhausen’s syndrome by proxy” made Law and Order.)  He’s taking us back to a more innocent time, a time before 9/11 and unspeakable Nirvana covers, a time when men were men and sheep were nervous.  I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use the Gingrich-era Wayne’s World negation.

Friedman could have gone with “China: PWNED,” or some variant on “fail,” both of which are at least marginally more current.  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because Friedman is dope, that’s why.  Because Friedman is da bomb, all that and a bag of chips.  From now on, that’s Thomas WaterfallsFriedman to you.

(Drop some retro slang in the comments, win an Ace of Base cassette.)

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The now-ubiquitous shoe-hero alleges a severe prison beating as the case reverberates through the Iraqi Parliament.  Meanwhile, the American media jerks itself off laughing about those ungrateful A-Rabs.  Either way, someone’s gettin’ paid.  The previously anonymous “Model 271,” a standard-issue black leather Oxford, is flying off the shelves of its Turkish maker.  Orders have skyrocketed in the past week, with the company taking full advantage of the situation:

“Five thousand posters advertising the shoes, on their way to the Middle East and Turkey, proclaim “Goodbye Bush, Welcome Democracy” in Turkish, English and Arabic.”

Serdan Turk, general manger of Baydan Shoes, praised the outgoing president:

“Mr. Bush served some good purpose to the economy before he left.”

Now, if someone would just hit Cheney with an American-made car.

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For the very special Maoist in your life:

“Maoart paintings integrate with virtuosity real people’s faces into faithfully reproduced propaganda posters. Based on a photograph provided by you and a poster of your choice, an artist renders you as a socialist hero.”

Seriously, check it out.  For 200 bucks, you pick a model poster and send in a headshot from a similar angle as your intended character.  Within three weeks, the artists will paint you a faithful revision of the original starring you as the proletarian hero.  The website notes that the paintings are done by “freelance professional Chinese artists selected for their portrait skills and their ability to reproduce the propaganda poster styles,” adding that they “do not commission “painting factories” and their salaried artists.”  Here are some samples of regular ol’ white folk rendered as Chinese Communist icons:

It’s all inclusive: Chinese-language slogans, industrial or agrarian background, etc.  But if it’s out of your proletarian price range, consider a simple movie or DVD.  Especially one reviewed by the Maoist International Movement (MIM).  They’re very sweet on Harry Potter…

“Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban” is almost the best we can expect from bourgeois liberalism’s films for children. It’s pointedly anti-fascist–giving the boot to eugenics in the opening scene, where Aunt Marge talks about the parents of Harry Potter in a disparaging way as reflecting on Harry…

…and give a limited endorsement to Star Wars:

“There was not much to complain about politically in the first installments of “Star Wars,” which was both anti-fascist and anti-imperialist. The role of Black characters and the “Red Guard” in the key battles did not go unnoticed at MIM. In this movie, we learn that democracy is the preferred government of the “good guys” of the Republic.  Although the characters’ endorsement of democracy is rather shallow like the current understanding of democracy in the united $tates, the movie itself offers slightly more analysis of democracy.”

(Yes, that’s “united $tates.” stet.)

Maoists, however, utterly hated Spider Man 2:

“There is a lot of confusing shit going on in this movie. By the NYSDCJS and NYPD’s own figures(1), grand larceny, grand larceny auto, and murder, will be about 20% of reported crimes in New York City in 2004, and the majority of these reports will not be due to the actions of the illegal bourgeois Mafia, who metaphorically figure prominently in the adventures of such comic action heroes as Spider-Man and Batman. MIM has said that “Spider-Man: The Motion Picture” (2002) has some redeeming value on the basis of its depiction of asexuality, but it cannot ignore the fact that “Spider-Man’s” Amerikan flag-waving fans are cheering for something that in the real world would be called “capitalist police repression.”

This is an important point. Communists do not support pig repression, much less the pig-wanna- be, labor-aristocrat vigilantes who think themselves heroes when they are gunning down the Third World proletariat at the Mexico-united $tates border, or the self-styled “community” pigs who “police” Asian, Black and Latino youth street organizations. If the bourgeoisie want to sic their thugs on each other, MIM would not get in the middle of this fight, but it does not support pig repression in the abstract when Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) has his knee-jerk reaction every time he hears a police siren. If Spider-Man had any (spider-) “sense” at all, he would fight the police repression under which gold miners work in Azania and China to produce the gold coins stored in the vault of the bank that is robbed in the movie.”

Want more?  MIM has literally hundreds of these.  So this holiday season, “Smelt a lot of good steel and accelerate socialist construction.

*Preemptive note to rightist trolls:  None of the above represents an endorsement of Maoism.

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A good friend of mine, who knows her stuff upsidedown and backwards, criticized the tone of the incoming U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on issues of poverty and humanitarian relief.  Her argument, including a link to Rice’s article, can be found here.  It’s worth reading, but I strongly disagree with it.  I was going to post my counter-argument as a comment on her blog, but it was a bit long and I had no other content for today, so I’ve put it here instead.  So go check out her argument, and here’s my response: (more…)

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For the National Republican Congressional Committee, Anh “Joseph” Cao was a diamond in a shitpile.  The 41-year old Vietnamese lawyer, (pronounced “Gow”), knocked off scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson in a bright blue, majority black district.  Cao’s three point victory made him the first Vietnamese-American in Congress, and the NRCC immediately trumpeted his success as a harbinger of better days.

So who is he?  Cao was born in Saigon, son of an ARVN officer.  His father was captured by the Communists, and spent seven years in prison as his mother fled with her children to the United States.  After being released, his father rejoined the family in America.  Joseph moved to Louisiana in 1997 for law school, and lives there with his wife and two daughters.  Thus, your template:  A refugee from a Communist country, member of a politically conservative ethnic group, also happens to be a convert to Catholicism.  On the surface, Cao has all the trappings of a far-right Republican.

Thing is, he’s not.  Cao has a fascinating background.  Following his Jesuit training and MA in Philosophy at Fordham (Go Rams!), Cao moved to Virginia where he worked with Boat People S.O.S. (BPSOS).  BPSOS is a community-based organization dedicated to helping Vietnamese refugees in America.  After earning his J.D., Cao took a position as BPSOS’ in-house counsel.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and office, Cao returned to New Orleans where he joined the board of the Mary Queen of Vietnam (MQVN) Church’s Community Development Corporation.  MQVN has earned a strong reputation for community development work in the aftermath of the hurricane.  Its leader characterized the situation:

“Before the storm, I guess you could call us libertarians,” Father Vien said. “Our attitude toward government was: ‘you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you.’ But Katrina changed all that. We had a responsibility to speak out.”

With MQVN, Cao fought to have utilities turned back on as quickly as possible in storm-damaged neighborhoods.  He also worked against a landfill project that would have dumped a quarter of Katrina debris in New Orleans East.  Eric Tang’s excellant Huffington Post profile notes praise for MQVN’s work from African-American leaders including local progressives.  Senator Obama visited the church in February.  Overall, Cao’s religious perspective informs a social gospel:

“When I was in Mexico helping the poor, I had a struggle with the issue of poverty and of evil in the world,” Mr. Cao said. “I told my spiritual director about my struggles, and basically he told me that God sends good people to help with human suffering – people like Gandhi and (the Rev.) Martin Luther King (Jr.). I thought the best way I could effect social change was to go to law school and into politics.”

Until 2007, Cao was registered independant.  He frequently cites Aristotle’s definition of virtue: “To walk in the middle line.” Cao says he “is not a hardcore conservative,” and there’s absolutely zero Republican branding on his website.  In an interview with the New York Times, the incoming Representative explained his overall view of things:  “Life is absurd but one cannot succumb to the absurdity of it.”  How often do Republicans channel Camus?

What about social issues?  Whither God and gays?  Cao spoke with U.S. News:

How important were traditional family values issues, like abortion and marriage, in your race?
Very little. I was focusing on the need to rebuild the Second Congressional District so the issues of abortion and marriage were not the focus of my campaign at all.

That’s refreshing, as was this follow-up:

Are those values issue high priorities for your first term in Congress?
My main priority in the first couple of years is to focus on rebuilding the Second Congressional District in Louisiana. Three and half years after Katrina, there are areas that remain devastated. The healthcare system is in need of reform. The educational system is in need of reform. We need to develop economically, need to look at the levies and at coastal restoration. Those are the issues right now that concern the majority of my constituents, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

As a devout Catholic, Cao will likely be a reliable pro-life vote.  That said, he strikes me as someone who would vote against gay marriage but might just oppose a Constitutional ban.

Most importantly, the tone of his campaign has been heavily focused on the needs of his constituents.  This might be a matter of necessity in the 29th-bluest district in the country, but his record does show a powerful commitment to community development.  Cao has expressed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus, arguing that he represents a majority-black district.  It won’t happen, (outstanding progressive Steve Cohen of Memphis already tried it and failed), but Cao’s record suggests this is a real, good-faith effort to strengthen the voice of his voters.

The incoming Representative is noticeably new to the political game.  He admitted to CNN that his victory was aided by low voter turnout due to Hurricane Gustav.  (Note to new members:  You are happy with turnout, you think it represents a strong mandate for change, etc. etc.)  Republicans have crowed about Cao with tacky headlines (“the future is Cao!“,) but he is unlikely to be re-elected if the Democrats offer a strong challenge.  Besides which, he’s hardly a useful model for future races.  All Cao’s victory proves politically is that Republicans can win blue districts if the Democrat has been caught with $90,000 cash in his freezer, is under indictment on election day, and if a hurricane drops turnout to approximately 1/3 of the 2004 vote total.  If that’s Boehner’s plan, well, good luck to you, sir.

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Something lighter

What if the song actually described the video?

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The drop in postings was related to travel and career crises.  Now realizing that I should live on Bleeker Street instead of this swamp, expect a little more frequency again.

Other things I learned over the last several days:  College theatre is frequently terrible; there are now buses with free wireless; Washington Heights is actually pretty nice above 180th Street; the man on the A train knows that the end is near; Cornelia Street Cafe is excellent; my great-grandmother’s FBI file is 180 pages, including clandestine photos; there is a Bible museum on 61st and Broadway; those ubiquitous Bank of America ads are really annoying, though one of the girls is pretty cute.

Anyway, the thought for today is political appointments.  Not the Obama debate, not the late, unlamented burrowing Bushies.  Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy and blameless inspiration for this tripe, officially wants Hillary’s Senate seat:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Caroline Kennedy told New York’s governor on Monday that she’s interested in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her the highest-profile candidate to express a desire for the job. Democratic Gov. David Paterson will choose the replacement.

Caroline jumped into the national spotlight in January 2008 when she described Senator Obama as “A President Like My Father.”   She had not endorsed a candidate since 1980, when she supported her uncle’s primary challenge to President Carter.  Caroline campaigned for Obama, and  eventually joined Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on the Senator’s Vice Presidential search committee.

In 2010, Governor Paterson’s interim pick will stand for election.  There are a number of state Democrats with strong legislative backgrounds, but none with Caroline’s fundraising power and name recognition.  She’s a rock star, and her uncle is pushing the idea of a new Senator Kennedy.  New Yorkers seem receptive, with Kennedy the Younger polling even with State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo, himself a legacy, has never been able to break through in electoral politics.  He blew a lead in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary.  Cuomo and Kennedy lead a crowded pack of Democrats including:

  • Catskills Representative Kirstin Gillibrand, a Blue Dog who stole a red district from the horrid John Sweeney;
  • East Side progressive Carolyn Maloney, former co-Chair of the House Caucus on Women’s Issues and recent N.O.W. endorsee;
  • Long Island County Executive Tom Suozzi, a moderate type who lost a quixotic gubernatorial primary bid to Eliot Spitzer by 60 points; and
  • African-American Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, previously the first black State Senator from a district outside of New York City, who has scored 57%, 62%, and 67% victories in three Mayoral campaigns.

Whoever gets the Democratic nomination may face a well-known Republican challenger (the Divine Miss Rudy denies it, but former Governer Pataki or Tsar Michael might be in if they don’t prefer to take on Paterson for Albany.)  Even with Schumer a lock for re-election, the state could have high-profile races for both the Senate and Governorship in 2010.

Paterson has kept quiet on his decision thus far, with an aide leaking that Caroline remains a long-shot.  The Governor noted Kennedy’s interest in the position, explaining “It’s not a campaign. She’d like at some point to sit down.”  Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman harshly dismissed her candidacy, claiming that she lacks qualifications “except that she has name recognition — but so does J. Lo.”  Republicans also seized on her short resume, with the generally absurdist Congressman Peter King arguing that “[no one] has a right to a seat.”

I like Caroline Kennedy.  She brought an impressive energy to the campaign trail.  But, mark it down for posterity, I’m completely with King on this one.  It isn’t necessarily Caroline’s fault.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault an Illinois-born Arkansan was basically handed this seat back in 2000.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that the New York Congressional Delegation got in line like puppies, Moynihan, Rangel et. al. anointing their new best friend.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that we haven’t had an upstate Senator since Charles freakin’ Goodell.  As good a carpetbagger as Hillary has been, her and Wall Street Chuck don’t much speak for anyone beyond Metro North range.  (Full disclosure: I grew up just past the last stop on the Hudson Line.)

This is a name and power seat, and I for one don’t want another candidate handed to the state pre-packaged and ready to go.  New York has an impressive backbench of Democratic Congressmen and Mayors, all of whom stepped aside for Hillary, all of whom will struggle badly if forced to face an incumbent Caroline and her money in 2010.  Although Cuomo is also a legacy, he has at least been active in state politics for a long time.  While Caroline’s fundraising work for New York schools has been commendable, there’s no reason she can’t run for her uncle’s seat down the line.  There’s no reason, other than the fact that she has a name and endorsed the right Presidential candidate, that she’s even being considered for this position.

Caroline Kennedy has every right to run for the spot, and I think she’d make a perfectly decent Senator.  However, appointing her now would all but ensure her election in 2010.  Whoever Paterson appoints becomes the obvious frontrunner, but her money and name recognition would make Kennedy particularly unchallengeable as an incumbent.

Paterson ought to appoint a caretaker Senator, someone with no interest in running in 2010.  (Either a House member planning to retire, or a low-profile member of the state government.)  Then Kennedy, Cuomo, and the rest of the gang can poke eachother with sticks two years from now in a competative race.  If Caroline really wants it, if she’s prepared to fight for the seat rather than simply accepting it, she’ll run; if her interest faded with the possibility of a long, competative process, we have plenty of qualified candidates waiting in the wings.

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