Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A favorite verse

A faithful friend is a safe harbor;

he that has found one has found a treasure.

Okay. I am not a believer, but I do love some of what I have read in the Bible, during my believer period. What is there for an atheist to like?

There is compassion and wisdom. There are moral lessons. There is poetry. These are not foreign to the godless.

I love my family. My lover is sacred to me. But a true friend is a treasure. In this world, we have need of more than family and lovers. Our true friends are indeed a treasure.

And let us be clear - friendship is the purest of human relations. No blood, no sex. Only the willing commitment of time, and caring. Of loyalty and commitment. Of patience and understanding.

For me, like Whitman, every stranger is a potential friend. I want to seduce them all. men and women, to love me and to be my friend. Do not pass me by without a smile and an intimate word, some gesture of affection and recognition of who I am.

I am here but a moment and so are you. Let us be friends and share this moment. It is all we have; let it not be wasted.

Why is true friendship so rare? Because we are fully human only for a few moments in the day. We should all be poets, artists, musicians, and lovers -- all the day long -- mindful to those around us and open to the possibilities of friendship.

I love the city. But the message one receives a thousand times in an hour is - mind your own business.

What is the point of a city if it is not human engagement? How can so much potential beauty be ignored in the hurry from A to B that typifies the streets of New York?

For me, it is almost enough to swim among these sleeping fish and feel my slim connection to it all. I am the jellyfish whose energy is sensed only by those foolish enough to get too close. It is enough for me, but still, such a waste of life's joy.

For whom are you a safe harbor, a treasure, a true friend?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Make me one with everything

I've been checking out music on You Tube. The sound isn't as good as playing a CD, but it is interesting to see the musicians. Here's a long clip of some of my favorite music. I first heard Mahler's music at Tanglewood - the NY Philharmonic played this symphony, and at the end of the 4th movement I jumped out of my seat and punched the air, exhaling suddenly all the breath that had been held in my chest through this fantastic finale.

Mahler was famous in his time as a conductor, and restricted his composing to summer vacations. His own music met with some criticism for its expressive emotional power (I am sure that the very thing the critics despised is what draws me to this music - I suspect that my appreciation of the emotional energy of jazz, blues and rock music may have paved the way for an appreciation of Mahler).

Supposedly, Mahler once said that "the symphony should be like the world: it must embrace everything" -- this seems to me to be the perfect definition of what art and music do for us, and what I want from music. Pull me from my seat and make me feel as if the infinite is moving within my heart and soul. Or as the Buddhist monk said to a New York City hot-dog vendor, "Make me one with everything!"

This recording captures the excitement of Mahler's music -- watching Leonard Bernstein at the end of the piece, I see in his movement the exhilaration that I remember feeling myself that summer night at Tanglewood.

I hope you enjoy this:

Mahler Symphony #1 "Titan" 4th Movement
Leonard Bernstein conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker.

Click here.

Still enjoying Halloween

Where's the Outrage?

A friend posted about the anti-war protests last week - and included a question from one protester who noted that so few people bothered to march against the war and wondered where the outrage I responded:

The outrage has gone out of me like so much cold water from a bathtub.
The 2004 election ensured that we would continue this war to the end of the Bush presidency and into the next administration. Reid and Pelosi have accepted the argument that the Democrats win by losing votes on Iraq. They continue to fund the war, convinced that they will be accused of not supporting the troops if they cut off funds. Even Carl Levin was afraid to go that far.

John Edwards called on Congress to send Bush the same bill every time, but they caved and gave him a bill without a timetable for withdrawal. Even after the 2006 election, there is insufficient wisdom or courage (or both) to take control of the situation.
There is no longer any outrage here -- just exasperation, sorrow, and resignation.

We are reduced to empty hopes that incompetents without a plan or sufficient resources can nonetheless succeed. We are left with the selfish comfort that comes from knowing it is not my son or daughter whose life has been spent with so little care, with so little purpose, and then used to justify further bloodshed in their honor.

We are called by our hearts to grieve, and by our heads to move on - to lower our expectations.

We are past outrage and saving our strength for some future day when this dark cloud has passed over, and America regains her consciousness.

So much has been lost. Is this what 9/11 has meant for us? A departure from reason and decency? A descent into hopelessness and belligerence?

We live in an America that elected a buffoon and empowered him to wreck our national security, to bankrupt our treasury, and to trash our national image in the eyes of decent men and women of the world.

We live in an America that has surrendered its hard-won rights and liberties to protect against a terrorist attack, and that has ignored or embraced the use of torture and the abuse of persons held in our custody.

We live in an America that has taken its military from the ranks of the poor, and then borrowed from China to give tax breaks to the rich.

We live in an America that has denied 50 million Americans the most basic security of health care coverage, and worries more about the cost of "socialized medicine" than about the cost of lives ruined by bankruptcy and untreated illnesses.

We can lecture Turkey on the Armenian genocide of 1915, but will do nothing to save Darfur in 2007.

We condemn Islam for the acts of suicide bombers, and then appoint men to Attorney General who think waterboarding may be an acceptable way to interrogate a prisoner.

For the past seven years, we have slipped into a shameful and degraded condition. Of course it is outrageous, but what will we do?

I am sending John Edwards all my money and doing what I can to get the man elected. And in January 2009, we will move to fix what has been broken in these terrible years under this most terrible president.

What if Iraq Stabilizes?

At TNR's election blog, The Stump, Mike Crowley asks whether Democrats running for President are prepared for the possibility that the surge is working and that Iraq may be stabilizing. Recent news reports have shown that electricity service is up to pre-war levels and that Iraqi civilian casualties and American casualties are both down significantly.

In an exchange of comments with a friend there, he argued that:
Ethnic (sectarian, actually) cleansing or not, fewer Iraqis are turning up dead, and some are starting trickle back home. Why isn't this good news to be celebrated. Oh, right, because W is still President, and that genius Reid has assured us that the war is "lost."

My response is attached below. I include it here because I think I captured pretty well my own reasoning in support of getting out now, and my own reason - aside from blind W hatred - for seeing the surge as a meaningless stall tactic. It seems to me that we are asking soldiers and marines to die for nothing and that is simply disloyal, immoral, and self-destructive.

What exactly is your plan? Hope for the best? Wait and see?

Let's put the best face on the situation in Iraq and see where that leads.

Petraeus has already told Congress he is pulling down his troop strength by 30,000 over the next two months, right? And Mahdi Army leader Al-Sadr has declared a cease fire that will end by January 29, as I recall. I also recall that numerous statements from within the Army's senior officers have suggested that more significant troop reductions will have to occur after April 2008 due to troop rotation considerations.

Let's assume that all of these factors, which could bode ill for the security you wish to celebrate, instead have no negative effect. Let's even assume that conditions improve slightly - more electricity, fewer Iraqi casualties,fewer American casualties.

It all sounds unbelievable, but let's go there anyway.

To make things even less credible, but rosier still, let's assume that Turkey does not invade Iraqi Kurdistan.

Even given all of that bullshit, what have you got to show for our efforts? An Iranian Shiite outpost in Mesopotamia, a disempowered and pissed-off Sunni minority with allies in Saudi Arabia and across the Islamic world, and the legacy of 6 years of criminality, sectarian cleansing and armed conflict - and a disreputable government that does not command the loyalty of its security forces and cannot rule without the US military to support it.

Harry Reid is no genius, but what part of this looks like victory to you?

If we dare to call it victory, and pull ourselves out of this fragile mess, the house of cards will collapse. Sunnis will have to rejoin their former Al Qaeda allies to fight the Shia militia. Tribal warlords will replace the present government, Iran will move even more boldly into the South and East, and the Turks will soon move in, in force, to protect their interests in the North. Even if the surge is brilliant, you and the other diehards will find a reason we can't leave -- and you'll be right because the surge will not have changed anything.

The only thing worth celebrating is the day when no more Americans will be fighting and dying in that hell-hole -- the difference is I would like to bring that celebration home tomorrow, whereas you are willing to wait till 2009. In my view all that delay does is save face for W, which is just not worth the life of one American soldier or marine, in my book -- and is certainly not something I would celebrate.

I am resigned to wait till 2009, but let's be clear. Celebrating the surge is like celebrating that one inning in Game 3 where the Rockies almost tied the score. Go ahead and celebrate butchie, but all I see is five years of an immoral and tragic waste of American and Iraqi lives. If your surge brings that to an end sooner, I'm all for it. But it sure looks like bullshit to me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sunday will never be the same

I can't believe the news today
I can't close my eyes and make it go away

Okay - it is pretty old, but it still makes me laugh to see this.

Axis of Necessary Evil

Pervez Musharraf has suspended Pakistan's constitution and is rounding up and detaining suspected terrorists, human rights activists, and other people he considers to be his political enemies. The Bush administration, through the Secretary of State and other spokespersons, evidently tried to persuade Musharraf to respect the rule of law and not to rely on expanded executive authority to address Pakistan's security problems.

Musharraf must have had a good laugh at that.

Even Dick Cheney must have snickered. After all, the dramatic expansion of executive authority, as a means of providing security to Americans in the face of the jihadist threat, has been the hallmark of this very troubled and unfortunate presidency. I can imagine Condi on the phone with Pervez - "Look, Pervez, you don't need the troubles we have here. Maybe you should stick with the constitution, old friend."

It also calls to mind this little episode:

During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of
the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

I understand from the papers that Bush has not yet called Musharraf. There is some concern about our massive funding of Pakistan's military - what should we do? Can we keep on funding the Pakistani army while its leader has suspended the rule of law?

I think it is pretty clear what we should do. I think Bush should call his partner in crime today and tell him he can do whatever he wants as long as we get bin Laden. We should redeploy 30,000 troops from Iraq and move them into Pakistan's tribal territory and work alongside Musharraf's troops to eliminate Al Qaeda and find bin Laden.

Of course, someone will have to remind Bush about bin Laden. He's actually the guy who attacked us on 9/11, but Bush has never been all that interested in getting the guy. After all, there was Iraq, and Saddam, and the opportunity to remake the Middle East as an extension of the great American empire (and they think Dennis Kucinich is crazy!) .

As long as Al Qaeda is using Pakistan as its home base, we will need a strongman in power in Islamabad. Why not Musharraf? Does anyone think Bhutto can do better than Musharraf in getting the military to expunge the jihadists?

When Bush failed to capture or kill bin Laden at Tora Bora, it seemed we might never have another opportunity. Now we do. Before this moment passes, we should shake hands with Musharraf and go after our enemy.

Tora Bora was a terrible mistake, compounded ten thousand times by the invasion of Iraq, which diverted us from the pursuit of our enemy. Let us not miss this opportunity to correct the first mistake. We have already wasted enough time, blood, and treasure in Iraq. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda must be crushed.

If Pervez Musharraf can help us do that, what are we waiting for?