Sunday, January 18, 2009


My brother ( and my sister-in-law ( have each started blogging in the last couple of weeks, and so I thought maybe it was time to retun to the genre.

Who knows where it will go. My thought right now is to make it a blog of my weight loss journey. In the aftermath of Becky's death (now almost five years ago, shockingly), I gained a lot of weight and wasn't skinny to begin with. About a year and a half ago, I lost about 35 pounds on weight watchers, and I have basically been able to maintain that weight loss over the last year, but that is not much more than a downpayment on the amount that I need to lose.

The family seems to be doing well. Kim has throughout our relationship told me that I was welcome to blog, but not about her, so she is going to be basically left out of it. That is the primary reason for my silence the last couple of years - what else is there to talk about? Katie is an amazing little third grader, though she is sick this weekend. We thought it was just a cold, but this morning, she has had a fever and a spot of vomiting. Hopefully, it is not too bad, but I was hoping to go on the MLK march tomorrow morning, but something seems to conspire against me doing that every year.

And now it is time to get psyched for league bowling this afternoon.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A bit about our caucus experience

It is too bad the reporting could not be as civil as the process was at out voting site. We had six precincts. I was the precinct captain for Obama, and the first thing I did was have a conversation with the Clinton precinct captain. We had three Obama caucus captains - who had Clinton secretaries - and three Clinton captains - who had Obama secretaries. Our overriding concern was to make the process such that everyone knew it was fair. After the final precinct finished, we made copies of all the documents, so that I had a complete set and the Clinton captain did too. The individual caucus captains called in the results, and I called the Obama campaign with the results, as I assume the other captain did as well. I had the microphone most of the night trying to get 500 people organized in an elementary school cafeteria, and what I said over and over was that we really are on the same team here, and we need to be sure we send Noriega to the Senate and a Democrat to the White House. The simple fact of the matter is that Bush did win in 2000. The rules of the game affect the way the game is played. If we didn't have the electoral college, perhaps Bush spends the last two weeks running through the South drumming up more votes where he was going to win anyway, and Gore does the same in New England. Who knows what would have happened if there had been no electoral college? The campaign would have been so significantly different that we will never know. Similarly, down here this week, I spent all of my time on Monday and Tuesday talking to Obama voters trying to get them back to the caucus. My targeted audience was people who had already voted and indicated they had voted for Obama. In a normal primary, I would have scratched them off and not contacted them again until October and instead tried to focus on undecided voters who hadn't yet been to the polls. The mistake the media made was not in reporting that Clinton won the Texas primary since she did - their mistake was in making these sound like significant wins when they were certainly not in delegate terms. We won't know the results of the Texas caucus until March 29 at the earliest because all results are unofficial until they are certified at the county conventions. But from what I have read and seen at the Texas Democratic party page, it would be shocking for the results to be any closer than 37-30 for Obama, and the highest total for the primary for Clinton would be 66-60. The bottom line for me is if there had just been a primary or just been a caucus, the strategy taken by both sides would have been significantly different.

Friday, February 29, 2008

my last first anniversary

I think today has to be considered my last first anniversary on my grief journey. It is leap day, and on February 29, 2004, four of our good friends had come out to see us. Kurt and Joanna were two of Becky's best friends from high school, and they remained good friends for the rest of Becky's life.

Kurt went to Georgetown, and while there met an exchange student from Scotland, and skipping ahead rather quickly, ended up married and living in England by the turn of the millineum. And so it was (and is) a super-rare treat to get to see him and his bride. But they were back in Texas, and made the trip out to see us, and since they were, Joanna and Burt came, too. And we had a wonderful time. A picture of the seven of us that day has stayed on my bookshelf ever since.

I look at it now, and it should have been so clear that things weren't going well. Becky's body is already misshapen from the cancer and its treatment. Her right shoulder sagged well below her left shoulder because cancer had deflated most of her right lung. And yet the next two weeks would be good ones, with Katie's cousin coming out to visit, a birthday party, and a trip to the zoo in Tyler that was the last unfettered happy memory of our lives together.

And yet, I remember sitting in the car the next morning after having breakfast with this motley collection. I knew deep in my soul it was the last time Becky and Kurt would see each other. It was the only time in that entire cancer journey I felt like something was happening for the last time. Not on birthdays or Christmases or whatever. But that morning, it hit me like a truck.

I am exhausted today, whether by memories of last leap day, the extra hours at work which are numbingly unproductive, or the pressures on family life that come from working 20 extra hours per week. Probably it is the combination of all of them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

identity politics

In reading before bed last night some of the immediate reaction to the debate, I was startled that noone seems to have commented much on Clinton's discussion about her desire to make history as the first woman president and how that would represent a sea change in the way things are done in this country.

Obama, to the best of my recollection, has never done this with respect to his race, and has gone quite in the opposite direction to refuse to be painted as the African-American candidate, which is what Bill Clinton in particular tried to do in the run-up to the South Carolina primary.

The thing is that there is only one president at a time. And the different groups don't get to take turns. One term is not for the white guy, the next for the Latino, and the next for an Asian. Women don't get to alternate. It is not a good thing that we have had basically nothing but white Protestants (and Kennedy).

But the simple truth as I see it is that we don't improve things by electing a woman because she is a woman or a black man because he is black or a old guy because he is old. There isn't a women's America and a men's America, a young America and an old America. Obama touched on this deeply in his convention speech four years ago, and has unflinchingly refused to allow his campaign to delve into identity politics.

Last night, Clinton proved that she still couldn't. And in doing so, demonstrated why she really isn't ready for the job.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

thoughts on the debate tonight

Before I forget, I really can't stand Tim Russert as a debate moderator. When he asked the question tonight about the Russian election coming up this weekend, Senator Clinton gave a very detailed answer about the strategic situation in Russia, about the failings of President Bush's Russia policy, and the challenges going forward. But she didn't use his name, and, as it turns out, she did know his name but fumbled the pronounciation.

It would be one thing if a candidate fumbled all over the place - say, for example, the way Mike Huckabee answers any foreign policy question - and then you could follow up with, do you at least know the guy's name. But Clinton demonstrated even to this Obama guy that she knew exactly what was going on in Russia, what our strategic interests were, and what the challenges were. Knowing the guy's name is certainly secondary to knowing the strategic situation. But Russert presses on and looks like a high school debate nerd. He is so out of touch. It was depressing.

But that is a minor point.

I am a biased observer, certainly (precinct captain for Obama who has spent at least a couple of hours per day the last couple of weeks working with the campaign), but this struck me as his best performance in the primary season. I thought Obama nailed the difference in their war records perfectly in simple terms. Clinton has tried to downplay the importance of Obama's argument in 2002 by saying that since he has arrived in the Senate, they have voted the same way on every major issue regarding the war. Obama argued that once a bus is in the ditch, trying to get out of the ditch limits your options. At least he didn't vote to drive the bus into the ditch in the first place.

I thought he also did a wonderful job on handling the Farrakhan discussion. Senator Clinton made a tactical mistake in getting into that discussion. When Obama left his answer the first time, I thought he might not have gone quite far enough to separate himself from Farrakhan. It was clear he disagreed with the sentiment - and his speech this weekend that made both Marty Peretz and Matt Yglesias happy when they vary widely in their views make me think that he won't have lingering Israel problems - and yet he had to walk a fine line. When she popped in, he was able to make her response sound like a fight over silly semantics. It turned what could have been nervy in the spin to a clear win for him.

The bottom line is that this was a clear win for Obama. He looked presidential, and there was nothing that happened tonight that changed the dynamic of the race, which is set to be over in seven days time. Obama will win Texas.

an answer for Dan Thomasson

I came across his column in the Corpus Christi paper, that was a stupid, idiotic waste of pixels or ink. Don't bother with it, if you ask me. But it asked Senator Obama what he would do if he actually won, as if there is no substance to him. And so in ten minutes I ranted back at him, probably taking more time to answer him than he took to write the column in the first place, since he certainly did no research.

Anyway, here was my answer.

This column is idiotic, I am afraid to say. If you want to know what he will do as president, go to his website. Look at his position papers. Read the Audacity of Hope. It is all in there, and, as opposed to the junior senator from New York, he did not need a ghost writer.

But let's get specific. What will he do? He will close Guantanamo Bay's detainment camps. He will pursue universal health care without mandates. He will pursue sensible changes to the laws governing credit cards, so that companies cannot raise their rates on old debts, and must seek permission before changing the terms of the contracts.

Most of his supporters are not supporting him because we "believe it is more important to elect a black to the presidency than a woman." We believe he is the best person to be President of the United States, regardless of race, gender, creed, or orientation.

As for his legislative accomplishments, there are several worth noting. He wrote a law that won the support of law enforcement, legal communities, and victim advocates to require that interrogations and confessions be recorded on video for all capital cases. It has become a model for similar laws across the country. He has passed a law to make government spending more transparent to taxpayers. He worked with Senator Luger to pass legislation to fund and supervise the disposal of weapons before they can find their way into the hands of people we'd rather not have them. Take a look at Obsidian Wings for more on this topic.

Evidently, doing any research is too much to ask for your column. Evidently, you believe that because you have charisma, you cannot have substance. You are, however, wrong. You don't get to be a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago based on charisma.

All that glitters is not gold, it is true. But gold does glitter, and Senator Obama is gold.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

what she said

I saw a link from Ezra Klein at the American Prospect to the Brennan Center, who asked various people the following question:

If the president-elect calls you the day after the election and asks you what is the first thing to do after inauguration, what is your answer.

And this is how Dahlia Lithwick, who does great work at Slate writing on all things affecting the judiciary, replied:

Close Guantanamo.

It's not that warrantless surveillance and the state secrets doctrine, broad, inscrutable signing statements, and water boarding aren't problems , but I am assuming here that the President elect would have scrapped all this before putting his or her toothbrush down that morning. There may be some temptation to keep Gitmo open for a few weeks. Don't. Close it down. Move the remaining prisoners stateside and give them trials. Torch the camp. Issue a press release. And walk away. No one thing has been a more damaging daily—often hourly—reminder in the foreign media of this administration's contempt for American and international law.


So Hillary Clinton is campaigning this afternoon and evening in San Antonio. I am a precinct captain for Obama, and want him to win more than any politician I have ever followed. So I don't consider this so much a pro-Clinton rant against our arch-bishop at the blatant hypocrisy he represents this morning.

As it turns out, Senator Clinton is going to be at St. Mary's University, a Catholic university on the southwest side of San Antonio, a largely working class and Hispanic area of town. (This is an ideal place for her to campaign, as those are two of her key demographics that she must dominate on March 4 if her campaign is to be viable on March 5.)

Enter the San Antonio archbishop, who is on the radio this morning complaining that Clinton will be using a Catholic university's facilities to campaign. Presumably, this is because she is pro-choice.

I, too, am pro-choice, though it is an issue that I have some difficulty with. Ultimately, in my mind, there are a couple of arguments that are decisive for me on this. First, it is unclear whether having abortion be illegal actually reduces the number of abortions. Several studies seem to point in the opposite direction. So making abortion illegal wouldn't make it less common, but would only make it less safe. Second, I am not convinced that life begins at conception. Most of us can agree that life ends when brain activity ceases, and so one very reasonable position is that life begins when brain activity begins. There was an article the other day in Slate about parthenogesis - or asexual reproduction in animals that usually reproduce sexually - may be a more common phenomena than we had previously thought. If it is possible for female sharks to have their eggs turn into baby sharks without fertilization, is the same process possible in humans? And if so, does that mean even unfertilized eggs have all the rights of humans because they too are the perfect possibility of life? Just a little thought experiment.

After that aside, I can understand why abortion is such a huge issue for many people. What I don't understand is why the Catholic heirarchy believes that this is an issue far above any other. All of the Republicans support the death penalty, against Catholic teaching, and yet noone threatens to refuse Communion from its proponents. John McCain runs around singing, "Bomb Iran, bomb bomb Iran" and yet I could find no complaints when he visited Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, as recently as 10 days ago.

I am not arguing that religion should not be part of our politics, especially at a personal level. I am a liberal because I am disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no way for me to separate one from the other. I view the immigration issue, for example, through the lens of Matthew 25. How do I meet the Jesus in the illegal immigrant? How do I treat him with dignity and respect? I think the Democrats give us better answers than Republicans. I think the Democrats give us better answers about the social safety net, about the connectedness of all races and genders, and so on.

I understand that reasonable people disagree, and I know plenty of faithful Christians whose beliefs lead them to disagree with me on these positions. And pretty much all of us disagree with the official Catholic teaching on some point or another. (Who is calling for the outlawing of birth control?)

And yet our archbishop wants to refuse St. Mary's facilities to Senator Clinton because she is pro-choice. And he does this after the university has received countless tax dollars.

Every now and again, I find myself waxing nostalgic and wishing things would change enough for me to feel welcome in the church that was (and in many ways is) my home. And days like these remind me that it is so far away.

Is it over?

I think it is. The Guiliani strategy of absorbing major loss after major loss and creating a big state firewall was a disaster for Rudy and it will be a disaster for Hillary. I don't know if she had much choice, given the mismanagement of her campaign and the financial straightjacket they found themselves in.

Polls going into yesterday showed Obama garnering about 30 net delegates, but the true number from last night alone is going to be closer to 50-60, and his lead among pledged delegates is going to be well over 100. The margin is larger than Hillary can expect to make up in just the big states left - Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

waterboarding and torture

I just read a story on Slate about the ongoing debate about waterboarding, and whether it qualifies as torture under the law. It makes me hate the Bush administration even more than before, which is rather saying a lot.

What I cannot believe is the number of people who think this is okay and necessary in the war on terror. The logic appears to be "the president is good; terrorists are bad; therefore, anything the president does to the terrorist is okay." I continue to think that the only people left supporting the president do so out of a quasi-religious conviction that simply isn't vulnerable to external criticism.

But the reason I started writing about this is somewhat different. What I fear is that at some point, the Congress or the ongoing campaign will raise our consciousness about waterboarding so high that even this president will make an admission that it is torture and will no longer be done by Americans. And then victory will be declared, except that there are dozens of other torture techniques that might well still be on the table.

I understand, somewhat, that all the legislation in the world is going to be fuzzy. I must admit to be shocked that there is an actual debate in this country about whether the Geneva conventions apply. The name George W. Bush, forever to be linked with Jefferson, Lincoln, and Kennedy, now will also forever be linked with names like Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot. Now we can get from the Declaration of Independence to the gulag with less than six degrees of separation.

Torture is also, in my opinion, why patriotic Americans must support Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. Hillary Clinton's worldview is that the president, almost by definition, is the most important person in the country. I think that is the take away from her discussion of Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights legislation of the 1960's. The Clinton administration was notorious for asserting executive privilege in new ways. The simple fact of the matter is that I do not trust her to reject the unprecedented power grab attempted by the Bush administration. Sure, that power grab will be used for better ends, in the mind of this progressive. But the Clintons inheriting the castrated justice department is something I don't want to happen. Happily for the nation, the Republicans are on the verge of nominating the only candidate in their field willing to hold Bush accountable. I disagree strongly with McCain on most of the main issues in this campaign - certainly, the war, Bush tax cuts, and abortion are issues that jump out immediately where I disagree almost entirely with him - but I admit that I would be tempted to vote for McCain over Clinton for the simple fact that I think the torture regime would be ended once if not for all.

Because if democracy has taught us anything these last few centuries, there is no battle we don't have to win anew with each generation.

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