Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH CUBA? (that's the last straw in the mojito...)

          Lemme see if I've got this straight...  President Nixon secretly negotiated an end to America's ban on official relations with Communist China during the height of the Cold War, visited that country, and led a move to normalize relations for the purposes of trade and tourism.  No one forgot, forgave, or ignored China's abysmal human rights record.  Now China is one of America's largest trading partners in both imports and exports to our country.

          And tonight conservatives are outraged because Obama is making incremental moves to end five decades of a futile trade and tourism embargo against Cuba.  All over America, rightwing hardliners are poking buttons their Chinese-made iPhones to complain about Obama's actions.  

           About fifteen years ago I made my second trip to the island of Jamaica. While at a resort there I was offered a chance to buy a one day cruise package to visit Cuba. Knowing we had a trade and tourism embargo legally barring us from visiting that country, I asked how it was possible for Jamaican resorts to offer tourism packages to Americans for trips to Cuba.  They explained that if we paid a flat fee in advance to Jamaican tour guides, we would be allowed to bring back "gratuities" from Cuba to Jamaica, items I knew we were forbidden to purchase.

            "No problem, mon" was how they shrugged off my concerns.  Of course, "No problem, mon" was how Jamaicans shrug off ANYONE'S concerns, other than their own.  

            If you want to know why we still have this ridiculous embargo against Cuban trade and tourism in place, look no further than this family's influence on American policies concerning Cuba:


Monday, December 15, 2014

TRYING TO HIT THE CURVE BALL OF THE GODS (life can take some unexpected turns...)

           The lucky ones among us often find themselves at a place of relative comfort and ease in life, with few pressing concerns and even fewer unpleasant responsibilities.  It might be written off as a just reward for a life well spent; karma's way of letting what went around-come around.  
           I used to think if I lived without malice toward anyone who didn't desperately deserve it and didn't go out of my way to screw anyone over, that things would work out well in the end. However, we all know people who qualify for that calm, peaceful existence, but are tormented with undeserved disease, or financial ruin, or an endless stream of shitty luck.  Bad things often happen to good people, while undeserved blessings often fall into the laps of assholes... We never know how life is going to work out.

           My lovely (and dangerous) wife and I circled each other like satellites for almost nineteen years before making it official with a marriage license in 2008.  My youngest of two children from a previous marriage is 31 years old, and my wife's daughter is in her late 20's.  We've done the parenthood thing. We've raised our kids, seen them leave to start their own lives, and remodeled the empty nest to suit our current lifestyle.  

            And now, somehow, we find ourselves standing at the doorway of a completely unexpected change, and we're more than a little bit unsure of what the future holds.

            Three weeks ago, the biggest concern we had was making sure we could fit a vacation trip to a mountain chalet into our work schedules in the spring.  We weren't stressing about Christmas, because neither of us likes the elaborate holiday hassles so many folks put themselves through every year as they deal with kids, and functions, and relatives.  We weren't worried about the local school system's holiday schedule.  We had our cocktails in the evening, played our Scrabble wars to settle the King of the Yard challenges, and had red-hot monkey sex whenever the urge hit us.  We tuned in to get news updates from Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart.  In short, we were adults living an unencumbered life, posing as respectable neighbors.  Not too many concerns that couldn't be handled or ignored.

             And then someone died and left us a nine year-old to raise as our own.

             Suddenly we find ourselves clearing out closets to make space for a little person's belongings.  We're making school lunches in the morning, dealing with elementary school drop-off and pick-up rules, meeting with teachers and counselors, checking over and signing off on 4th grade math homework, reading through essays and book reports and themes.  We've got school clothes to launder and maintain.  We're juggling the logistics of getting a kid to and from dance and piano lessons every week.  Out of nowhere we find ourselves reading the warning labels on pediatric cough syrup bottles in the middle of the night, wondering if there are any allergies or medical issues we might not be aware of... and wishing we had asked more questions or been given a handbook for remedial child rearing.

              Instead of snuggling up with one another on the couch at night to watch our favorite shows, we're listening to whatever The Disney Channel is pumping out for the evening.  Instead of cooking our usual spicy, onion and pepper laced dishes, we're scaling things back to a more kid-friendly menu, and dealing with a child who's been allowed to refuse to eat vegetables for her entire life.  

             In short, we didn't think our normal routine of a margarita and Person of Interest would morph into Spongebob and an ongoing debate about the necessity of eating carrots and green beans.  I never thought I'd hear myself once again saying to a child, "No, we're not stopping at McDonald's for a 'Crappy Meal.'  Their food sucks, and it's bad for you."

              Life can take some funny turns.  Ten years ago I was living in an apartment, listening to Pink Floyd, slamming shots and playing video games with other divorced dads while we waited for Monday Night Football to kick off.  Now I'm trying to help a nine year-old divide by fractions and arguing the merits of asparagus.  

              Life's thrown us a curve ball, and the count's three and two in the bottom of the ninth.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

WHO WOULD JESUS TORTURE? (listening to rightwing apologists for America's crimes against humanity)

             So the Senate has released its report on the criminal abuses sanctioned by our government through the "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed to extract information from detainees in the aftermath of 9/11, and everyone has an opinion on whether or not this limited disclosure of facts is the right thing to do.  On one hand, we have to acknowledge the very real possibility of retaliations against Americans around the globe once we admit to having violated numerous international conventions against the inhumane treatment of prisoners.  And on the other hand, we pride ourselves as a nation of laws and insist that we won't tolerate such behavior... not by other governments or militant groups, and certainly not done by our own government agencies in the name of security.

              For months we've been warned that even limited disclosure of these admissions of torture (and by all accounts what we've learned so far is but the tip of a very bloody, shameful iceberg, most of which remains classified and hidden) would result in a worldwide backlash against American interests.  And those issuing those dire warnings are probably correct; we should be mindful of the fact that those who seek to do us harm will be emboldened by these revelations.  There's a very real possibility that lives will be lost due to the release of this information.  

               But the most despicable wringing of hands is coming from those most responsible for this national shame in the first place.  The architects of our policy to torture detainees through countless forms of physical and psychological abuse insist their decisions were made in the nation's best interests, and that terrorist attacks were averted because of the information gleaned at our CIA sanctioned gulags.  The usual suspects in the Bush administration continue to offer up the lie that their tactics protected our nation and our national interests around the globe, despite the report's conclusion that no workable intel was derived from our abuses of international norms of conduct.

                In short, the same people who lied to us about weapons of mass destruction are now lying to us in the aftermath of their criminal abuses of detainees.  It's as if they've not heard that we know they lied to us to get us into the war in the first place.  It's as if they've decided the best course of action is to stick to the party line, goosestep along with a unified denial of proven facts, and hope their asses don't end up in front of war crimes tribunal at the Hague.

                And that's exactly what should happen next.

                If there were any justice in this nation, we would insist that those responsible for taking us down this immoral rabbit hole be held accountable before an international tribunal.  We would insist on nothing less if it had been our sons or daughters being waterboarded, or if our own soldiers were sexually, physically, and psychologically abused while in the captivity of another nation's security forces.  We can't indignantly point out the inhumane crimes of others and insist upon international condemnation of those acts if we're not going to come clean and punish those who committed criminal abuses in our names.

                We owe it to the world and to our nation's honor to offer up the war criminals we're currently shielding from international prosecution.

                 In the meantime, it would be helpful if the people who sanctioned, ordered, and carried out these crimes stopped invoking the name of Christ whenever they want to point to our superior moral authority around the world.  We should either stop using the guy's name, or start living up to His teachings.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


             We knew my wife's mom was in bad shape when the doctors told her to get her affairs in order.  A couple years' worth of cancer treatments, bone marrow transplants, and a hundred different trips to the infusion center had all boiled down to this cold, hard reality: we can't do any more for you.  If you have a twisted sense of humor, you can almost hear the Inigo Montoya character from "The Princess Bride" saying to the six-fingered man, "Prepare to die!"

             A week ago she decided she had had enough of the platelet infusions and wasn't going back for another, which prompted the doctors to set the timetable for her death at about a week.  She passed away at her home in her own bed yesterday morning.

             My wife is handling the situation about as well as anyone could be expected.  She and her mom have always had a strained, contentious relationship, but in the end they were both able to make peace, and I believe that will mean more to my wife than any of the other crap they've been through over the years.  It's hard to be more forthcoming about any of this without revealing more than outsiders need to know, but to say it's been a rough relationship would be the understatement of the year.

               I thought I was holding it together pretty well over here.  Yesterday I made up a salad in case any of our friends or her relatives dropped by and needed a quick meal.  Way to go, right?  A few minutes ago I heard Cindy laughing in the kitchen, and moments later she appeared at the office door with a glass bowl of shredded carrots in her hand.  It looked familiar...

               "Did you mean to put this up in the cabinet with the clean dishes?" she was smiling at me.  I love it when she smiles.  It was almost worth the fuckup, just to see her smiling.

               Yeah... I had shredded carrots for the salad into a bowl, snapped a lid on it, then had put the bowl BACK into the cabinet with the other glass bowls.  I'm sure it made perfect sense at the time.

               But just to show you that I'm not the only one making boneheaded mistakes, there's this...

               I clicked on the online obituary for my wife's mom, and noticed the funeral home had put a handy dandy map with driving directions from the funeral home to the grave site where tomorrow's burial will be held.  I didn't recognize any of the streets or nearby towns on their map, and that made me wonder just how far we needed to travel after the visitation services at the funeral home.  So I clicked on the map to get directions, and that's when I realized WHY I didn't recognize any of the landmarks.

               According to the funeral home here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we're burying my wife's mom in a nice graveyard near Newark, New Jersey immediately following tomorrow's services.  New Jersey.

               I think I better gas up the car and pack up a change of underwear if we're driving fifteen hours for the funeral.

                Let the chaos begin...