It’s been a busy season. Busy at work with lots of deadlines. Busy at home with trips and visitors and lots of projects to get ready for the visitors. And my big life change-thing is coming like a slow moving locomotive, arriving in more like a 60-day window. More on that when it gets closer.
Then there’s the crush of life out there in general, a mixture of disappointment, lunacy, tragedy, victories, and amusing distractions — what with government scandals, wild conspiracies about those scandals, tornadoes, elections, terrorist attacks, the Pens’ playoff run, and hey, don’t look now but the Pirates are 10 games above .500, y’all. It’s a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts and emotions.
I can’t keep up with it all. I barely develop a take on something, and it gets wiped off the map by something else. I wish I had the time to answer my wife’s frequently asked question: “What do you think about every little thing?” But that would take far too many words. So let’s start with a small bite: all those salacious scandals!
No doubt about it. Last week was rough one for the Obama administration. It was the kind of week that all presidents get eventually, usually in the second term. Of course, most of it is smoke and mirrors.
Benghazi – Our consulate got attacked in a war-torn nation. (Not an embassy, people, but a consulate.) Security budgets for foreign diplomats had been slashed by Congress. There were no assets that could have gotten there in time. Not to keep score, but under Obama, there have been 2 embassy/consulate attacks and 4 deaths. Under George W. Bush, there were 11 embassy attacks and 52 deaths. These things happen. Like our troops that march into war, these diplomats who serve in these areas know going in that there is a risk. They are putting themselves in harm’s way to serve.
Of course, Republicans are working themselves into a lather trying to find anything resembling a smoking gun in all of this. They are having the same luck they had in their search for WMDs in Iraq. Bupkis. They thought they had it when an Email surfaced through ABC news showing that talking points had been altered to defend the administration. But it turned out that the Email that ABC quoted wasn’t in their possession. They hadn’t even seen it. It was verbally communicated to them by a Republican source. But stay on it, Republicans. It gives you something to do rather than all that not governing you were doing. Remember jobs, jobs, jobs?
IRS — The more that emerges on this, the more it seems like rogue employees at a Cincinnati office. But it also involves shades of gray here. The job of this department was to investigate charitable organizations to make sure that they qualify for their tax exempt status. Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, a huge swath of new 501(c)(4) organizations spouted up to raise huge dollars for political candidates, without paying taxes or disclosing their donors. By law, these organizations are to be primarily focused on “social warfare” and not politics. Tee-hee. That’s a good one. I don’t think anybody in their right mind thinks that PACs of the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and the Tea Party have been created primarily for “social warfare” and not politics. And while there are 501(c)(4) orgs on the Right and the Left, there are way more on the Right, because they have way more money. So, the IRS, by law, has to monitor these entities and evaluate them. Their mistake was in choosing to do so by analyzing their names. None of them were denied (other than a couple 501s on the left) and none were prosecuted or fined. Some were delayed. At most, some folks at that office should probably be fired. And a law should be passed stating that social warfare entities seeking anonymity and tax exempt status should be banned from political activity. Be political (pay taxes and disclose your donors) or be a social service organization (and enjoy your tax-free status), but you can’t do both! Problem solved.
Spying on Journalists — Of all the scandals, this is the one with teeth. It is disturbing on multiple levels. It displays a stunning disregard for American values of a free press, due process, and civil liberties. Of the three “scandals,” this alone approaches anything Nixonian in nature. But the Right is having trouble staying interested in it. Let’s face it: at a base level, they really don’t have a big problem with trampling on the rights of the Lame Stream Media if it plugs leaks that threaten national security. In smoke-filled rooms and closed door sessions around D.C., I don’t doubt that some Republicans are secretly impressed by Obama’s moxie on this one.
The Obama administration should be lauded for many things, including health care reform, bringing our economy back from the brink of disaster, reducing unemployment without being allowed to spend any money, ending two wars, and the impending immigration reform bill that, if passed, may be Obama’s greatest accomplishment. But his legacy will forever be tainted by his disturbing stance on civil liberties, demonstrated by Guantanamo, the drone program, fierce attacks on whistle blowers, and this attack on journalists.
My blogging buddy Bluz Dude has a rather different take on this. He actually did some research (Wha?) and read about a deep undercover agent who was exposed by the AP’s reporting. Still, we have courts for a reason. Now, what whistle blower in the world will feel safe calling a journalist knowing that Big Brother may be listening in?
Mary Poppinsgate — Don’t even get me started on the Marine holding an umbrella for Obama, and the faux outrage that caused. Child, please…
But America loves scandal. Recently, the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation sent a memo to Republican lawmakers, urging them not to legislate, but to keep their focus squarely on the scandals, which they believed would resonate with the American public. Specifically, it said,
…it would be imprudent to do anything that shifts the focus from the Obama administration to the ideological differences within the House Republican Conference.
In other words, “Stay away from the arena of ideas, where we will lose. Keep all the heat on these drummed up scandals!” (Note: my bias may be showing just a bit on this one.)
Of course, they have miscalculated, once again. According to polls this week, the President’s approval rating has actually ticked up 2 points, to 53%. Meanwhile, disapproval over the Republican party has shot up 5 percent in the last two months, from 54% to 59%.
So I say, yeah, keep focusing on the scandals. Have more expensive public hearings. Grandstand on TV more often. Draw comparisons to past Republican failures so that we can be reminded of them again. Iowa Republican Steve King recently stated, “if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you’re going to get in the zone where Benghazi is.”
That there is some funny Republican math. I’ll just let The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart reply to that:
So you’re saying that the incident where, by order of the President of the United States, people broke into the Democratic headquarters to bug it to gain strategic advantage in a Presidential election and then covered that up by trying to use the power of the Presidency to squash the Justice Department; and then added that to the Reagan administration’s secret deal to illegally sell arms to Iran in exchange for hostages and money that could then be funneled to Central American right-wing death squads, end parentheses, times 10!…
I kind of forgot about the audacity of what Reagan did in Iran/Contra. Selling arms to Iran — charter member of the Axis of Evil! (See George W. Bush.) They held our diplomats hostage and he sold them arms to secure their release. Then he used the money from the sale (which couldn’t be put on any books anywhere) to fund an illegal war in Central America. Can you imagine if Obama did anything like that? Selling arms to Al Qaeda, and using the money to do something Congress told him he couldn’t do? Republicans would be storming the gates with torches and pitchforks!
Reagan got nothing. He let an American soldier take the fall and go to jail. Nice. Thanks Republicans. Thanks for bringing up some of your greatest hits so that we could enjoy them all one more time.
I’ve seen several things this week that make me feel old.
Red Pen Mama posted about a book by Joe Hill, who apparently is the son of Steven King. Like most people my age, I read several King novels back in the 1970s and 80s. So I thought, Isn’t that great? Steven King’s little boy is growing up to be a writer. Then I Googled him and discovered he is 40.
Last week, I realized that the time period between World War II and Star Wars is shorter than the period of time from Star Wars to today. (You may have to read that one twice.)
I’m also the same age as Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi) was when he filmed The Karate Kid. Don’t laugh, so is Ralph Macchio.
In two years (October 15, 2015, to be exact), we’ll be at the future date that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future. And by the way, don’t you think that the make up person overreached just a bit when aging future-Marty McFly for that movie?
Last year, Full House had a 25 year reunion party.
Then, this appeared on Twitter for those who remember Friends:
And I wasn’t really a fan of Beverly Hills 90210, but if you were, here’s how old they are now…
And here’s the baby from the Nirvana cover:
And how about technology? The CD turns 35 this year. And remember the floppy disc? Today, it would hold a 1.5 GIFs.
That’s okay. I’d rather get old than the alternative. Besides, 51 is the new 48.
So here’s to all us old fogies. Carpe diem!
We did it! On May 9, the earth registered a CO2 level of 400 parts per million. I don’t know if we get a free sandwich or a toaster for that, but it is quite an accomplishment.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimates that the last time the concentration was at least 400 ppm occurred 5 to 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch., one of my all time favorite of all the epochs, by the way. We’re talking wooly mammoths, temperatures around 5-7 degrees warmer than today, and sea levels a good 25 meters higher than today.
I think most people today think that since you can’t see the air pollution anymore, the atmosphere is clean. Not with carbon.
Which is why it is all the more deplorable that Republicans blocked the nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the EPA. They didn’t just block a vote, they blocked her nomination from leaving committee to get a vote. Their objection is not about the qualifications of Ms. McCarthy. In his first term, Obama aggressively used EPA authority to try to cut pollution, although the White House ultimately killed a rule that would have regulated ozone levels because it would have cost too much.Republicans have argued that various EPA rules have hurt jobs, and the coal industry in particular. McCarthy was in charge of developing many of those regulations in her previous job at the EPA. where she served as assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation. She sailed through the Senate nomination process for that role. Ironically, she was also the top environmental enforcer for Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts. Small world, huh?
The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.
Four hundred parts per million. But no worries, the top Republican in the House says it’s comical. Keep burning that coal. Keep drilling for that oil.
I know that the lion’s share of Republican’s reluctance to care a whit about the environment is due to money. They say it’s for jobs, but come on, it’s really about profits. Polluters pollute because they make money doing so. To cut back would cost them money.
But I fear that there is also reason to blame the Religious Right. They hold to a very literal view of the Bible, including of the book of Revelation. This is the Left Behind theology. These Christians think that the end of the world is coming (most likely in their lifetime). They think it’s all going to happen exactly as Revelation (and the Left Behind series of fiction books) says it will. No metaphors, there. Real lakes of fire and people vaporizing off to heaven.
Recently, Mark Driscoll, a young uber-masculine pastor (from Seattle, of all places) made an off-handed remark at a conference that blew up on Twitter:
I know who made the environment. He’s coming back and he’s going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.
Then, as he is wont to do, he sort of tied it in to his fascination with masculinity:
If you drive a mini-van, you’re a mini-van.
Huh? And there, ladies and gentlemen, is why Christians don’t see the environment as an issue, even though the first task that God gave man, according to the Bible, was to “tend the garden.” You see, God’s coming back to burn up sinners and the sinful world they inhabit. So why worry about carbon or litter or coral reefs or our drinking water. It’s all moot. We live on in a disposable world that is meant to be thrown out.
In my view, this goes against that verse made famous at many a sporting event — John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Christians tend to focus on the end of that verse, but not on the beginning. That God loves the world. He’s not mad at it. He doesn’t hate the world.
And check this out. There are several Greek words that can be translated as “world.” One refers to all the people. Another refers to the systems and institutions that make up “the world.” But the Greek word used here is kosmos, meaning the earth, the stars, the moon — the entire universe. God loves it all, including the natural laws that hold it together. He loves the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. All of it. And I should think that He would prefer that we love it, too.
I am fairly certain on one point: He doesn’t want us burning the thing to a crisp just a make an extra buck, thinking that God will beam us out of here at the last moment.
I believe in God, but I guess I don’t read Revelation as a literal news account. But I do like what it says at the end of Revelation is about God coming down, not us going up…
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Not exactly the destruction predicted. As long as we don’t burn the place down ourselves with our 400 ppm of carbon.
But what do I know? To many on the Right, I’m just a “Godless commie lib.” You’ll have to go to John Boehner for the real wisdom of the universe.
Sorry for the lack of posts, but my life is in limbo and, really, it is all I can think about these days. But I can’t talk about it. My life is about to drastically change (for the good!) but I’m waiting for things to happen that will bring it to fruition.
I know. That tells you precious little. But the next two days (Tuesday & Wednesday) are big days. Dates will be set. Schedules will be put in motion. And hopefully, I will soon get a date for when the next chapter of my life will begin.
So what’s been happening lately?
I’m very stoked that the depleted Chicago Bulls beat the Heat tonight. The Bulls are lucky to be able to field a team. Luol Deng, arguably their best active player, is so sick he was tested for meningitis. Their center is limping around on planter fasciitis. Other players are so sick they are heaving on the bench. And Derrick Rose, who can dunk in practice, still sits on the sideline in a suit because he doesn’t want to risk his $200 million Adidas contract. Hey, if they were paying me that much, I probably wouldn’t risk it either. But let’s just say it. Michael Jordan would have been out there. ’nuff said.
And last week, an over-the-hill, mediocre professional basketball player came out of the closet and the world suddenly learned his name. Something that never happened from his basketball career. Still, he is the only active player in one of the mens major team sports to “come out.” And really, it’s about time. Rumors of gay players in all major sports have abounded for years. It’s about time one had the courage to go public.
Yet through it all, the media has ignored the fact that Jason Collins is also a very strong Christian. The fact is, if you believe in God, then you have to deal with the fact that God made him gay, and God continues to make gay men and lesbian women as we speak. Despite not being able to procreate (other than through surrogates), they continue to exist.
Jason Collins was inspired by a passage in a daily prayer manual that his grandmother had given him. A few days before he decided to make his announcement, this was the entry…
The clarion call of freedom sounds within my soul, trumpeting the truth that the love of God liberates me from unhappiness, hurt, or fear. I bid farewell to any emptiness from the past, and open myself to realizing my heart’s deepest longing and aspiration.
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin church cancelled an event that was to feature former Green Bay Packer defensive back Leroy Butler. Why the cancellation? He had Tweeted: “Congrats to Jason Collins.” That was enough to cancel his $8,500 speaking gig. He was told that if he removed the Tweet, apologized, and asked God for forgiveness, he could still speak at the event. Butler took a pass.
There is so much wrong with that last paragraph, I can’t even begin to process it.
First of all, as a former elder at an urban church that feeds the homeless and is struggling to figure out how to pay for showers in the basement so that people living on the streets can clean up and get a meal, I am flabbergasted that a “former ” football player would charge a church $8,500 to speak one time, and that they would pay it. My head is spinning on that one. I’m just saying that you’d be amazed at what we could do with $8,500. And we wouldn’t blow it on paying some ex-football player to give one sermon. I’m sure that Leroy Butler can bring it. But $8.500 for one speaking gig? In a church? Are you kidding me?
Next, I am shocked that they canceled his event because of one Tweet: “Congrats to Jason Collins.” One needs to apologize and ask forgiveness for that? Look, I know that you can cherry-pick a handful of verses out of the Bible to defend that position (while ignoring a plethora of more challenging and disturbing passages), but really… a church full of sinners should hardly be throwing rocks in their glass house. Butler is not gay. I’m have no idea where he stands on the issue. He merely congratulated a friend/acquaintance/colleague on making a decision. And for that, he needs to submit to a public shaming?
It’s things like this that make me believe that we are not in a post-Christian culture, we are in a post-church culture. But I am forming more on that for future post
Congrats to Jason Collins. I hope he takes his 1.1 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game and finds a job next year at 35 years of age. But if he doesn’t, he’ll likely find plenty of Leroy Butler-like speaking engagements to live on for a very long time. Jason Collins will do just fine.
But what of the church in America? At a time when 6.3 of 10 young adults support gay marriage in this country, churches are facing more uncertain future than a journeyman NBA big man. Things were much more uncomplicated when gays stayed in the closets and women remained in the kitchen. But times are changing. And it will be interesting to see how the church (Catholic and protestant) will respond.
Shaker Aamer is a leader. He doesn’t lead by the strength of ideas, but by the charisma of his personality, his engaging smile, and his passionate eyes. People just naturally follow Shaker.
Born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, Shaker headed to America at age 17 to live with family friends. The next few years were spent traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and finally London. There he met and fell in love with Londoner Zin Siddique, whom he married in 1997. Also that year, their first child Johina was born, followed by Michael in 1999, and Saif the following year. Shaker worked as an interpreter for a London law firm that worked on immigration cases. He was granted permanent residency. In June of 2001, Shaker and a friend, Moazzam Begg, moved their families to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he worked for an Islamic charity by establishing a girls’ school, teaching English to the children of Arabic-speaking expats, and overseeing a number of well-digging projects. Little did Shaker know that he was about to become the “poster child” for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That September, of course, was 9/11. Sensing the encroaching danger, Shaker arranged for the safety of his three children and then-pregnant wife. The school at which he worked was flattened in the first days of the U.S.-led bombing campaign that followed. Soon after that, Shaker was kidnapped by Afghan bounty hunters. At the time, U.S. coalition forces were offering as much as $5,000 to locals who would turn in suspected “terrorists.” As far as the locals were concerned, “you had me at $5,000!” A thriving economy soon developed around hostage taking and trading. Moving up the chain, Shaker was sold to other bounty hunters twice before being sold to Northern Alliance soldiers, who then turned him over (sold him) to U.S. forces. Throughout this ordeal, Shaker feared that eventually he would be executed when he could no longer be sold. So, his heart leaped when he heard the sound of American voices. He thought he was saved. But for Shaker, the nightmare was just beginning.
In prison at Kandahar airport, Shaker was shocked at the abusive treatment of detainees and almost immediately organized a hunger strike. In December 2001, he was transferred to Bagram Air Force base, where he was starved, kept awake for nine days straight, and chained in positions that made the slightest movement unbearable. He became emaciated. Delirious and desperate to cease his torture, Aamer says he confessed to whatever the Americans wanted. Yes, he was assessed to be a key member of the UK-based al-Qaida network. Yes, he had multiple associations to senior al-Qaida members. Yes, that included Osama bin Laden. Just make it stop. He was also present when American and British intelligence officers tortured a fellow prisoner until he “confessed” that Saddam Hussein was actively training al-Qaida members.
On February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day!), 2002, Shaker arrived at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That same day, his son, Faris, was born. In August 2002, Shaker wrote a heavily censored letter, that included drawings to entertain his children. In the letter, he wrote “I just became 41… but physically I’m 50. I got arthritis, kidney problems, hearing problems, eye problems, my hair has fallen out, my heart is aching.”
The regime in Guantanamo became tougher as the prisoners’ treatment was made entirely dependent on their perceived cooperation with the interrogators, and a torture program was introduced via defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But Shaker continued to stand up for his fellow prisoners, to liaise between them and the authorities, and to translate documents for them, and he was regarded as a significant presence within the prison.
On March 9, 2005, in another letter to his wife, he wrote a heartfelt plea to his wife: “You are the soul of my life. You are the best of my heart. You are the light of my eyes. You are the oxygen in my lungs, you are the sun on my back, the sweetest taste of my mouth, you are everything, you are everything I need to live, to love, to be….Do you know how much you are important for my life? If you break, I will break; if you become weak, I will become weak; if you go, I will go. You are my soul twin. I need you to be strong.”
That summer, as a widespread hunger strike broke out at the prison, Shaker helped to bring it under control, and, with a handful of other prisoners, was part of a Prisoners’ Council involved in negotiations to secure better rights for prisoners. The authorities soon soured on the Council, disbanded it, and threw Shaker into solitary confinement, where he remained for at least a year and a half. During that period, in June 2006, he claimed he was beaten for hours and asphyxiated during an interrogation on the same day that three other Guantanamo inmates died. The official story regarding these three men was that they committed suicide. They were found with rags stuffed down their throats and a mask over their mouths to keep them from spitting out the rags. Their hands and feet were bound. Still, according to U.S. officials, these three men were able to tie a noose to the top of the cell, climb on a chair, put their heads in the noose (with hands still bound!), and commit suicide. This is still the official story, even though a number of soldiers who were present on the night in question cast doubt on the official account in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010.
All throughout his captivity, Shaker has disavowed the details of his “confession” as giving his captors what they wanted to hear so they would stop torturing him. No evidence has ever been produced against him. In 2007, the Bush administration cleared Shaker for full release. Although many in England have campaigned for his return, it is believed that the British authorities don’t want him because he witnessed British officers torturing prisoners in Afghanistan. The sole country to which he has been cleared for release is Saudi Arabia. According to Shaker’s lawyer, Stafford Smith, “The sole reason for the US to send Shaker to Saudi Arabia is to have him silenced, most likely by sentencing him to a long imprisonment after a sham trial.”
Why might powerful interests desire the silencing of Shaker Aamer? Smith points out that his case has an incendiary element: he is allegedly able to describe in detail how a UK intelligence agent was present when a US interrogator repeatedly smashed his head against a wall shortly before he was sent to Guantanamo. Described as articulate and highly intelligent, Shaker’s allegations of British complicity in his torture and detention would undoubtedly reopen the debate over British complicity in the darker side of America’s “war on terror.” Shaker has already announced he is suing MI5 and MI6 for defamation.
On August 9, 2008, however, Shaker was still unbowed and unbroken. In another letter to his wife, he wrote, “My sweetheart, yes I lost a lot of weight, yes I have a lot of sickness, yes I got short sight, yes my bones are aching, yes I got white hair, yes I got old but I love to tell you my heart is still young, my mind still strong, stronger than ever.”
Amidst fervent public protest, Shaker was again cleared for release by the Obama administration in 2011, and even England seemed to be wanting him back, when four British MPs — Jeremy Corbyn, John Leech, Caroline Lucas, and Michael Meacher — wrote an open letter to Congress seeking Shaker’s return to the U.K. And yet, Shaker still sits in Guantanamo prison, along with 85 other prisoners who have been similarly “cleared for release.”
It is the child who has never met his father who is understood to have struggled most. Faris, 11, is reported to play obsessively with the presents bought years ago by his father in the search for a connection. “He loves playing with the toys that Shaker bought for my other children. They are very special for him,” said Shaker’s wife Zin.
This week, Shaker Aamer is entering the 80th day of his hunger strike against his treatment. His lawyer says that his voice is weak and he has lost 40 pounds in the past few weeks. Yet, according to Smith, Shaker is still mentally strong. “The other day they told him to close the hole in the cell door that they push food through. But Shaker, despite being on hunger strike, refuses to shut the hole. So they push his food through and it stays there all day where he can smell it.”
The situation is such that Aamer is starting to suspect the regime at Guantánamo Bay is trying to kill him through medical neglect. Simultaneously, the strain on his family is starting to mount. Johina Aamer, a high school student who last saw her dad when she was four, asks the public to imagine what it must be like: “Imagine being locked up for more than 10 years of your life and possibly more years to come while everyone sits there and does nothing about it.”
America, all of this is being done in our name. This action is creating future terrorists around the world who have nothing but hate for the country that kidnapped, tortured, and held their loved one for more than a decade without charge. How would you feel toward the country who did this to your son, brother, father, or friend? As comedian Sam Kinison used to say, “I know what turns Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist!”
This is as much a black mark on our nation as a million black soles in chains, the trail of tears, and Japanese internment camps. But this self-inflected wound is still open and festering.
There are those who insist that our Constitution is only meant for U.S. citizens. No one else is ascribed its rights. But wasn’t America supposed to be a beacon of light into the world for freedom and democracy? Weren’t we the ones who were supposed to stand for something other than shadowy justice and concentration camps? And if you call yourself a Christian, isn’t there a higher law than the Constitution that describes how we are to treat our enemies and care for the stranger? (See the Good Samaritan.)
Shaker Aamer will likely die soon, but his name should live on in American history along with Hiroshima, Selma, Watergate, and Iran/Contra, as something we can never allow to happen again. Shaker’s name should stick in our throats until it makes us gag, much like the rags that were shoved down his throat.
Click on picture below to sign the international petition (for non-UK signees) asking for his release. I’m sure that someone will get right on that.
I blog about it every year at this time. It’s always the last weekend in April. But it is truly a phenomenon in our Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville.
It was birthed 16 years ago when a handful of local residents and artists dreamed up an event that would show off urban, post-industrial community and prove that you could come here at night and not only live to tell the tale, but you’d also see some pretty cool art. They only had three rules… no fees (we ain’t in this to make money)… no juries (nobody judging the art)… and no censorship (anything goes). Anyone could submit one (and only one) piece of art. Those hardy urban pioneers half expected to just sit around by themselves drinking beer all night, but they had one hundred artists participate and several hundred people attend.
This weekend is Art All Night’s sweet sixteen party, which will be held at the same warehouse as last year, under the 40th Street bridge. More than 1,200 artists will submit and more than 12,000 people will be wandering around our neighborhood, looking for a place to park.
I love this event because it’s all volunteer. I love it because it is militantly non-commercial. I love it because of the way it juxtaposes artwork against a gritty urban backdrop. I love that the place will never be empty from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. (There are always people up for an art show at 4:30 a.m. Amazing!) And I love, love, love the people watching. If past years are any indication, there will be hipsters, yuppies, punks, and blue hairs. There will be pirates (arg!), transvestites, Latex man (don’t ask), and lots of buskers. You will see people that make you wonder, What do these people do with the rest of their time, because I never see them anywhere by here!?
Mrs. Bagger has been on the planning committee for several years now. It’s right in her wheelhouse. She loves it. Once again this year, we will be heading up the graveyard shift: midnight to 8 a.m. She has garnered quite a reputation for policing the shady elements that you get during those hours. She has fearlessly confronted drunk/high hippies and beer guzzling punk bands. (No outside alcohol is allowed in, so things don’t get out of control.) Two years ago, she rousted a group of kids who crashed in the middle of the event in their sleeping bags. Then, she protected them when a known pedophile showed up and began to bother the young lads. After escorting the creep out, the young waifs proclaimed her “Tiger Momma,” and the phrase has stuck. In many cases, if a guy tried to confront these situations, the offending parties would power up and the situation could get ugly. But, as an attractive but forceful woman in her fifties, Mrs. Bagger can confront people in a way that makes them back down and comply. It must be the former high school Spanish teacher in her. It’s pretty amazing. We men just stand behind her to let people know that we’ve got her back. And it works.
So, if you’re in Pittsburgh this weekend, you really need to stop by at some point. Bring the kids in the first few hours, when there will be lots of children’s art activities. Come late night to see Mrs. Bagger in all of her authoritative glory. (Just don’t sneak in beer, because she will take you down!) Or submit some art yourself — and have your kids submit art, for there is no age limit. My tip, come on Sunday morning when things are quiet — and there is plenty of parking — and take a leisurely stroll around, soaking up all of the inspiring and thoughtful art. See if it doesn’t inspire the artist in you.
It’s free. It’s unique. It’s all Pittsburgh. Here’s the Web site if you have any questions: www.artallnight.org.
Don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying a nice, boring week. No news alerts. Nothing blowing up. No constant buzzing of my phone with urgent headline updates. It’s only Wednesday. I know. There I go counting unhatched chickens.
Plus, it’s Coffee Week. Yeah, who cares? I know. But I’m a big fan of the beanie beverage. And because the best thing I learned in college was to drink coffee black (cheap and nasty Folger’s crystals), I don’t have to worry about fat content or empty calories in my vice of choice. Just the bad breath that comes with it.
The only place I’ve heard about Coffee Week is on NPR. Big surprise, huh? But here is what I’ve learned about my best friend.
- Coffee comes from Ethiopia, where it grows wild. But it wasn’t until the 1400s that some drowsy Ethiopian figured out that you could roast the seeds.
- By the 1500s, coffee consumption had spread across the Arab world. This affected society because coffeehouses became gathering spots where ideas where hatched and exchanged.
- By the 1600s, coffee was taking Europe by storm. Before this, alcohol was the drink of choice. People even enjoyed a beer soup for breakfast. Coffee is credited with helping all of Europe to sober up, spurring both business and art. Lloyd’s of London was an idea that came out of Lloyd’s coffee shop. Literature, newspapers and even the works of great composers like Bach and Beethoven were also spawned in coffeehouses.
- Coffee came with explorers to the New World. One tree was delivered to Martinique. It is said that all coffee plants in the Western Hemisphere come from this single plant.
- After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, true patriots switched from British tea to South American coffee. John Adams wrote that he would have to learn to embrace coffee instead of tea, because drinking tea had become unpatriotic. Indeed, both the French and American Revolutions were birthed out of coffee houses.
Of course, coffee has its dark side. (yuk, yuk, yuk)
- It has also had a bad rap. In 1511, the governor of Mecca banned coffee because his medical advisers warned it was bad for people’s health. In 1674, women in London were convinced that coffee made their husbands impotent.
- It has had legitimate PR problems, too. It has been harvested by slave labor, contributed to deforestation, and depleted needed nutrients from soil.
But perhaps no other industry has worked so hard to clean itself up. Today, many in the coffee industry are striving to ensure that their product is produced equitably for both the growers and the environment. It’s far from perfect and sometimes confusing. (After all, who can tell the difference between Fair Trade, Rain Forest Alliance Certified, Organic, C.A.F.E., and Smithsonian Bird Friendly?) But they’re working at it.
The only sad news I have to report is the imminent demise of my coffee vendor of choice: Caribou. I prefer Caribou’s nutty flavor to the more bitter tasting Starbucks. The staff at Caribou learned my drink and my name quickly. I also prefer the atmosphere in the Caribou shops, with their fireplaces, big comfy chairs, and large wooden table work spaces that invite you to sit down with a good book and stay for while. Starbucks shops seem to say, “we have uncomfortable furniture, so get your coffee and please leave.”
But Caribou will be folding up shop in most of the nation, to focus on only Minnesota, Colorado, and the Dakotas. I asked my Caribou coffee guy, Bob, about the rumor and he said it was no rumor. It’s happening. All Caribou stores located where there aren’t actual caribou will be closing by the end of this year. Many will become Peet’s Coffee & Tea, of which I am unfamiliar.
There are some good local shops, of course. I’ve never been a fan of the Cafe Mocha chain’s coffee, but they do have an outstanding iced tea. (Caribou’s iced tea tastes like garbage water.) Coffee Tree is also good, but there is not one nearby. In Lawrenceville, Espresso a Mano is outstanding, but it is also very popular. Thus, it’s generally hard to find an empty seat at one of their few tables.
So, great, first I lose Roger Ebert, my go-to movie reviewer, and now, my caffeine pusher of preference is going away.
Change. It’s the only constant. But Happy Coffee Week.
This week certainly is one we’d all like to forget, if only we didn’t have such horrendous and heartbreaking images seared into our brains. And as I type, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near over. I would really like it if we could please have just a couple of days without anything blowing up or anyone losing life or limb just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is that too much to ask?
And to top it all off, it seems that the guy who sent the ricin letters to Washington works, or worked, as an Elvis impersonator. Really? If that isn’t the final straw. Okay, look, as one who may or may not have once donned the sequined jumpsuit myself from time to time, I am asking the public to refrain from lumping all Elvis impersonators into one basket. I’d hate to see vigilante justice rear its ugly head.
We They are a peace-loving people who only desire to spread the joy of the King.
So, in hopes of unplugging from the unpleasant realities that pervade the hourly newscast these days, I’m going to a baseball game tonight. Who wins and who loses really doesn’t seem to matter much at this point. Just to sit and watch a game with the beautiful tableau of the nighttime Pittsburgh skyline before me will be a treat.
On Sunday… well, why don’t we just take things one day at a time for now.
It may seem hard to get back to enjoying life when there are so many people grieving, recovering, and hiding in Boston, searching for the dead and missing in Texas, mopping up from floods in the Midwest, intercepting poisoned letters in D.C., and ignoring the will of the people in Congress, but at some point, we owe it to them to keep going tomorrow.
My suggestion: why not put The Avett Brothers’ “The Salvation Song” on the ol’ Spotify:
We came for salvation
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way
Here’s to a better one next week. It really can only go up from here, right?
Tonight, I am one of millions of Americans who cannot believe how tone deaf Republicans are to the American voter. I have no doubt that many of them will pay dearly for their cowardice in future elections. I have no doubt that good will prevail in the end, and gun bills will eventually pass. Society will evolve from out of the dark ages. But this week’s vote is an opportunity to let the anger and disappointment seep in deep, and to let the Grand Ole Party free-fall further and further from political relevance in the minds of huge swaths of future voters.
90 percent of this nation understands the need for universal criminal background checks on all gun purchases.
80 percent of Republican voters agree.
More than 70 percent of NRA members agree.
The majority of the U.S. Senate (54 votes) agrees.
But in the face of that kind of support, the Republican party has said, “Let’s try a different direction.” Indeed, 90 percent of Republican Senators went against the desires of 90 percent of the American public. You’ll see them hoist the 2nd Amendment and their deeply-held belief that the right to have guns… lots of guns… automatic weapons of warfare… extended clips that hold 30-100 bullets… this right supersedes all other rights in this country. Like the rights of 30,000 people each year (men, women, and children) to pursue happiness by living.
Of course, a background check law doesn’t take away a single gun from a single gun owner in this country. It doesn’t prevent a single law-biding American from purchasing a gun or guns. All it would do is work to prevent some convicted felons and some mentally ill persons from purchasing guns at gun shows. And this was a compromise bill, written with NRA oversight, with a huge loophole that exempted face-to-face sales. Any gun show clerk could have told a buyer to meet in the parking lot for a face-to-face, background-free sale. That alone, made this law rather toothless. But it would have been SOMETHING. Now, to those in Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and Chicago, and to grieving families across the county, the Republican party has declared that nothing will be done. Not one damn thing. They have essentially said, “We’d rather protect the 2nd Amendment rights of felons and the mentally ill to purchase guns without restriction or reservation.”
Of course, this all comes down to politics, xenophobia, and vocabulary.
In the immediate aftermath of Boston, when Obama first spoke, the media held its collective breath waiting to see if the President would use the “t-word.” Terror. Terrorist. Terrorism. Is he going to call it what it is? And what difference would that make? Would it change a thing about the investigation? Would it change a thing about our response? No. But this country stops everything when it comes to terror. On Wednesday afternoon, CNN and Fox News falsely reported that law enforcement officials had a “brown-skinned man” in custody. The Boston Globe and the AP followed their lead. Besides being inaccurate and wildly reckless reporting, I ask you, what was the news value of mentioning the “dark skin”? Such a reference could mean an Arab or a black man, a Latino or an Italian-American, a Native American or a Polynesian. Or just someone with a dark tan. It meant nothing. But they included it because it was a wink and a nod toward the xenophobic who wait with the fervent anticipation of pinning the attack on Muslims. Forget the fact that Sandy Hook and Tucson and Aurora and Oklahoma City were all the products of white men. Last I checked, white men are not being racially profiled. No, but we can’t wait to get our claws into the “brown-skinned” ones.
If you haven’t read the New Yorker’s reporting on the Arab bombing victim who was tackled by the crowd, had his life turned upside-down by the FBI, and is still being hounded by Fox News, it is required reading.
But if the bombing culprit(s) turns out to be an American, then the whole thing gets lumped into the crime bucket. It’s just a crime. There’s nothing that can be done.
This country stops everything for the sake of a terrorist attack that killed 3 people. But when 30,000 people are killed each year by guns, we shrug our shoulders. That’s just crime. “What are you gonna do?” It’s the price tag for our right to bear arms. You can’t stop that. Why make gun laws if criminals are just going to break them? There’s nothing you can do.
85 people were killed by guns yesterday. 85 more are being killed today. Men, women, and children. 85 more will be killed tomorrow. Ho-hum. Nothing you can do. You can’t restrict guns because the Founding Fathers wanted this. We have to give them what they wanted.
And as an aside… aren’t the Republicans the Pro-Life party? Where are the marches? Where are the signs with dead children on them? Why aren’t they marching on Washington to curb gun violence? You know, because… life. We’re for it.
You hear people say, “Guns don’t kill people, People kill people.” Last week, four people were killed by toddlers who had access to guns. I guess toddlers kill people, too. Not guns though, No, siree. The guns are the innocents here. In fact, if those first graders had guns, Newtown would have been freaking Disneyland! Guns, guns, guns. The more the better. Guns for everyone. No judgment. No background checks. No registrations. No tracking of sales. Not with Republicans armed with a filibuster.
There are many Republicans (and 4 Democrats) who will have to answer for their votes come election time. This will not go away. The GOP has now lost 5 of the last 6 national popular elections in this country. And now, their self-inflicted wounding continues. They can’t help themselves. They are imploding like Lindsay Lohan with drink coupons at Mardi Gras.
They can spin this however they like, but when you go against 90 percent of the American public, you will pay a price. Each of those senators (the 4 Dems, too) will have this plastered to their records. Their opponents (in both primaries and the general) will flood the airwaves with reminders that they are beholden to the NRA and not to the people. Bloomberg will funnel money to opponents. Gabby Giffords will funnel money to opponents. The families of Newtown and Tucson and Aurora and Virginia Tech will campaign against them.
I’m done with this. I’m done, just like they are.
America is saddened tonight at how a day that started out like this…
…could end like this.
We don’t know if this was the product of a sick and desperate home-grown loner or the political message of a group from far-off shores. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, yes, there are selfish and cowardly people who can strike down innocents and cause terror in our hearts.
They can cause terror in our hearts for about 15 seconds.
Then, something else kicks in and we rush into the fray to the aid of our fellow man.
People we didn’t know before. Doesn’t matter. Police, medics, volunteers, bystanders… will rush into harm’s way to lend a hand. Runners will keep running, beyond the finish line, to join other Bostonians in giving blood until the Red Cross says “Enough! We’re good!” Citizens will open their homes to runners who can’t get back to their hotels. And don’t fall for the line that “that’s what Americans do!” That’s just a bunch of cable TV rah-rah bullshit. It’s what humans do, all over the globe. It’s what they do when a bomb goes off on a bus in London. It’s what they do when a tsunami hits Japan and Indonesia. It’s what they do when an earthquake rattles Iran and China. It’s what they do in Syria, Rwanda, Tibet, and Baghdad. It’s what they do all over the globe when evil tries to strike at the hearts of our neighbor. It’s a human thing. It’s eternal and global and you can’t snuff it out.
Terror might have had a nice kick for a few seconds there, today, but humanity won the race. Finish strong, it’s what we do. No terrorist, foreign or domestic, will ever be able to beat that.