Thursday, January 21, 2010

Apocalypse Now!

Anybody who thinks living in the desert is boring needs to come and visit when we are having one of our crazy weather weeks, like we are now. It's true during the overwhelming majority of the year our weather is consistent to the point of being boring - for long periods of time we are saddled with blue, cloudless skies, warm-to-hot temperatures and a delightfully dry climate. It's during the summer monsoon season and in the current mid-winter rainy spell when our Chamber-of-Commerce weather takes a hike and we get something completely different.

You need to remember this is a place where even a 30% chance of getting less than a tenth of an inch of rain gets everyone really excited and giddy with anticipation. So when the Rain Gods decide to bestow copious quantities of their liquid blessings on us - presumably to make up for denying us even a trace of precious moisture for as long as 180 consecutive days - it is a big, big deal. The local news media have gone into full-on apocalypse mode and the weather service has been issuing flash-flood warnings every five minutes. The weather people are all over TV predicting a possibility of getting half a year's worth of rain this week alone, and they are fairly squealing with delight and shivering with apprehension at the same time. Good times!

So while we are preoccupied with actually getting wet when we take a step outside, there has been a lot of craziness going on in the real world. The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti continues to loom large and ugly before the world, as rescue and relief agencies scramble in a desperate attempt to contain the terrible humanitarian disaster. Luckily we are not in the middle of hurricane season, because I could not imagine what would happen if a major hurricane started to bear down on that most unlucky place.

But another earthquake, this one of a political nature, happened on Tuesday when Republican Scott Brown scored an unexpected victory in a race to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Such a victory was pretty much ruled out as wildly impossible just a few short weeks ago, when Democrat Martha Coakley had a double-digit lead in the polls which was regarded as insurmountable. So she decided to take an extended Christmas vacation while her opponent tirelessly worked the campaign trail. That may turn out to be the most expensive Christmas vacation ever for the Democrats, because Brown's election shattered the Democrats' sixty-seat supermajority in the Senate, giving the Republicans carte blanche to filibuster everything except the brand of toilet tissue used in the Senate rest rooms.

And filibuster they shall, with Obama's centerpiece health care reform legislation as target numero uno. How incredibly sad for this country that the one, best chance we had at fixing the horrendously broken health care system pivoted on this one election. The Republicans are almost delirious with joy and are making no attempt at all to conceal their glee at this major setback. Not only is losing the seat extremely painful for the Democrats, but particularly galling is the irony that it is Ted Kennedy's seat, who was the main champion of health care reform for most of his career. Blame is being flung far and wide, although most pundits agree that a deeply incompetent, totally mismanaged campaign by Coakley was the main cause of the failure. This is very very bad news for Democrats.

Brown's victory is bad enough, but today it was announced that the Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be able to spend money in political campaigns. Let's review, shall we: Our electoral system is already choked and corrupted beyond measure by corporate lobbyists of all types, and we all realize that's a big problem. So what should we do? Oh, I know, said the Supreme Court: Let's open up the wonderful world of campaign spending to the big corporations and allow them even more latitude to influence and corrupt the elections, large and small, in this country. Freedom of speech issue, said the Supremes. Hey, news flash, you crotchety old farts: People have freedom of speech, corporations don't. What is so hard about that? Corporations aren't people, and they should not be afforded freedom of speech protection. One needs only to view one of the slanted, ridiculous ads for something called "Clean Coal" - a complete contradiction if there ever was one - to get some idea of the heights of idiocy this will lead to.

Had enough depressing news? Let's wallow in a little more, and take a look at the strange case of John Edwards. Former Senator and presidential hopeful, Edwards was regarded as a rising Democratic star with a long, bright future in front of him until he decided to cheat on his cancer-striken wife and have an affair with a filmmaker. When word of the affair was leaked, Edwards got on every media outlet he could and denied, denied and denied some more. When rumors started spreading about him fathering a child with his mistress, Edwards donned the cloak of Righteous Indignation and proclaimed far and wide across the land that the story was utterly and completely free of merit. Today, he backtracked on all that and admitted yes indeed, everything was true. Apparently the upcoming tell-all book by a former campaign aide which will assert that Edwards offered to pay hush money for the rest of his life if he assumed paternity of the child in question (which he did) prompted Edwards to 'fess up to his tacky indiscretion.

I think the part that bothers people, including me, the most is the ease and facility with which Edwards deliberately and with all premeditation lied to the entire country repeatedly by denying something he knew full well had happened. This is why people have no respect for politicians nowadays, because they prove themselves to be compulsive, adroit and inveterate liars over and over again, until they are backed up against the wall and have no choice but to admit their sins. How extremely sad we have people of such dismally low morals in high public places.

And the rain keeps falling outside on the dry dusty desert, from a featureless gray sky, trying but not quite able to wash away our sins.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Cockroaches Are Out

They say whenever there is a disaster - floods, fires, weather events - that cause destruction on any scale, large or small, loathsome vermin like cockroaches come running out of their hiding places. They come out either to save their own miserable hides or to feast and profit on the misfortune of others. That's what cockroaches do - they lead their lives in the dirt and the filth and the darkness and rejoice when a catastrophe opens an opportunity for them.

We see this happening in lurid, depressing clarity in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake this past Tuesday. A major disaster in every possible aspect, the suffering and misery is truly epic in scale and can only get worse from this point forward. As with other recent disasters, such as the Indonesian tsunami several years ago or the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the news outlets are overflowing with searing scenes of unimaginable horror, of countless bodies lying in the streets, and of the gravely injured, alone and unattended, waiting for medical assistance that most likely will not arrive in time. The outpouring of sympathy and aid from all corners of the world, from places as diverse as China and Iceland, is also monumental. But still, there are people in this world for whom this cataclysm is merely another chance for publicity and to advance their own agendas.

I am referring specifically to right-wing flab repository Rush Limbaugh and drooling, dementia-addled "man of God" Pat Robertson. Blowhard Limbaugh, the Fort Knox of Ignorance and Stupidity, used his radio program to twist the Haitian crisis into a harangue against the Obama administration for responding too promptly to the event (what a horrible thing to do!). There was also some idiocy which I don't understand involving our income tax being equivalent to foreign aid to Haiti. Excuse me? And to top it off some other blather which implied that the Haitian disaster was an almost tailor-made event for the Obama administration to somehow advance its own agenda. If all this sounds confusing and makes no sense, it's because everything Limbaugh has said regarding this event has been confusing and makes no sense. Just when you think he can't possibly say anything more ignorant and brainless than he already has, he goes and tops himself.

And then there's the desiccated, putty-faced, Howdy-Doody-with-Alzheimers dimwit Pat Robertson, who has come up with some kind of astonishing, mind-blowing drivel about the Haitians forming a pact with the Devil a long time ago to get them out from under French domination. He said directly that all the tribulations and difficulties that benighted nation - the poorest nation in the entire western hemisphere - is due to them agreeing to serve the Devil many years ago. Robertson and his ilk also look down on the Haitian people as being devil-worshipers and voodoo practitioners - which most Haitians are not - although this pseudo-Christian nonsense about a pact with the Devil sounds as much like ignorant, superstitious babbling as does sticking pins in dolls. This latest torrent of insensitive, grossly idiotic hatespeech should prove once and for all that Pat Robertson's brain has completely rotted out, and he needs to be put out of everyone's misery and given a needle to the vein.

They say that horrendous events bring out the best in people, that in every catastrophe which involves massive destruction and loss of life, there are a myriad of unknown, often anonymous acts of courage, selflessness and heroism. Unfortunately in our binary universe, the opposite is also true; disasters bring out the cowardice, hatefulness, evilness and stupidity of people. Anyone who has a shred of intelligence, or compassion for the suffering of innocent people will recognize immediately that Limbaugh and Robertson are shameless examples of the latter, and deserve to be denounced and condemned without mercy, in the strongest possible terms.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

La La La La La La, You Say It's My Birthday

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
-- "Birthday" by the Beatles, from the White Album

The Beatles' song "Birthday" has been echoing in my head all morning, and how appropriate. Because today really is my birthday, number 58 and still counting.

How I ever got to be 58 years old is beyond me, given everything that I've done in the past half-century. For some reason "half-century" sounds like a longer time than "58 years," but whatever. When you're in your twenties, being in your fifties is incomprehensible, so far off in the future. Everyone you knew who were in their fifties seemed older than God's underwear, and it was almost like they were from some other planet. Now, being fifty-plus years old doesn't seem that awful at all.

I look back at my life and I have to say I'm pretty happy with the way things have turned out. I've been extremely fortunate in that I've been able to live my life exactly as I wanted to live it, as opposed to conforming to someone else's idea of what my life should have been like. And like most people I was subjected to a lot of pressure in my early years to conform to a certain societal role. I have been blessed with extremely good health and the skills and talent to make a very comfortable living for myself. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most interesting places in the country, most notably Washington DC in the eighties and the San Francisco Bay Area in the early nineties. I have also been able to visit some of the most fascinating and wonderful places in the world, such as Rio de Janeiro, the United Kingdom, Australia, Iceland, and the Netherlands. There are still many other places I want to visit, but these places are dreams fulfilled for me and they have left their indelible marks on me.

Here are some of my impressions and memories of the decades I have managed to live through, either through sheer luck or by the grace of the Big Dude in the Sky:

The Fifties were all about growing up in a small town, with picture-perfect white Christmases, beautiful Pennsylvania autumns, warm, seemingly-endless summer nights, starting grade school and beginning to explore a huge, wonderful world.

The Sixties were a coming-of-age time, when my life expanded beyond my family and I started to get some idea of my place in the world. I remember the Sixties primarily through music, with the Beatles and Motown in the first half, and the psychedelic music of the hippie era in the second half. The late Sixties were an incredible blast of color, light and excitement, a joyous liberation from the stifling conformity of the previous decade. It was a time when everything was new and exciting and colorful, a time when the world fairly exploded with new possibilities and ideas everywhere, in music, art, literature, entertainment, society. Everything was changing and everything was possible, and it is still probably the most exciting and wonderful time of my life.

The Seventies were a time when reality set in and I had to come to terms with the real world. Like a massive hangover after the wild party that the Sixties were, the Seventies were a time for me to get a grip and get serious about my life and my career. College turned out disastrously for me, and unlike those very fortunate people who have a crystal-clear idea of what they want to do with their lives, I had to flounder around for a while exploring a lot of different things. I did have some very interesting jobs that taught me a lot about the world and about myself, most notably working in the Social Services counseling area of the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh. That was probably the most berserk, interesting, frightening and enjoyable job I have ever had in my life. Much of that had to do with my boss at the time, who was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He had an incredible talent for mimicking people, and did uncannily perfect, spot-on impressions of the people we had to deal with in the jail. I remember many afternoons when we laughed ourselves silly for hours. I would laugh so hard and so long my entire body hurt. It was the most ridiculously insane job ever, but also the most fun. The Seventies were like that, completely crazy-scary and interesting all at once.

The Eighties were a huge amount of fun. I was living in Washington DC for the decade, probably the epicenter of everything that was happening in the world at the time. My career was really taking off at the time, being hired by IBM in 1981. I found a lot of wonderful friends who became my chosen family, and we spent the decade in a dizzying haze of dance, dance, dance, drugs, drugs, drugs. DC had its own special kind of R&B/dance music (now known as "old skool") that was exciting, melodic and extremely danceable. We wouldn't get to the dance clubs until 1 A.M. and stayed until well past dawn, stumbling out of the club dripping with sweat into the blindingly brilliant Sunday morning sunlight. And we did that nearly every single weekend! We would travel all over seeking the ultimate in entertainment, and regularly went to New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other places on the party circuit. Now, even thinking about something like that gets me tired. Given the tremendous tsunami of recreational pharmaceuticals with which we were inundated, I truly don't understand how I survived that decade.

The Nineties were the time when I finally grew up and became an adult. Literally, I had been living a very extended adolescence up to that time. You can't do that forever because even the biggest party has to end at some point, and for me that was the nineties. I had a major farewell when I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1990, and it was five days of the most insane, non-stop partying I had ever done. After that, everything changed. I passed some sort of milestone or had some kind of epiphany, because I left all that craziness behind and somehow, became an adult. My career took me to California in the early nineties and while it didn't turn out to be the utopia I always imagined it to be, I still loved it out there and miss living in California. It was close to being a paradise, but even paradise doesn't last forever. I moved to Phoenix in 1993 and have been here ever since, having finally found a place I can call home. The last half of the Nineties were a time of settling down and stability, and building the basis for the rest of my life.

The Double-Aughts (a really awful name for the first decade of the new millennium) have been a time of transition for me, of really understanding what my life is about and what is important to me. I came to realize that my true calling in life is to work with animals and I came to realize that rabbits are the animals I want to help the most. I discovered Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue and the wonderful people there have become my family, the people that I choose to share my life with, and they bring meaning, structure, purpose and best of all joy to my life. As I moved out of the working world into retirement, I've learned to be open and flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing times. Politically and culturally, it has been a scary, violent and at times horrifying ride, fraught with really ignorant and insane people who wear their racism and intolerance like a badge of honor. The past couple of years have been the Ascendancy of Stupidity in America, but I've managed to get through it and I have cautious hope and optimism that this new decade will bring more of the peace, prosperity and happiness I have been so very lucky to have at every point in my life.