Step Away from the Rock

President Obama went today to talk to GOP members of the House at their retreat in Maryland. To the shock of no one, he reiterated his plea for bipartisanship. He asked, AGAIN, for an end to the legislative gridlock – stating that the American people don’t want “Washington to continue being so Washington-like.”

After chiding them a bit for the party-line votes that stalled the stimulus bill, and patting them on the back for being willing to spend freely in Afghanistan, he closed with, “I'm ready and eager to work with anyone who is willing to proceed in the spirit of goodwill.”

(sigh) Isn’t he adorable?

Despite how exasperated I am by his optimism, I am impressed with his perseverance. He has a dogged belief in the basic goodness of the GOP that is just amazing, and as far as I can see, completely unfounded. I like to think of him as an incredibly eloquent Charlie Brown, trying, time and again, to kick the bipartisan football - he always seems to believe that TODAY is the day the Lucys of the GOP are not going to yank it away.

Unfortunately, the failure archetypes that suit this situation best are not Charlie Brown and Lucy, but Sisyphus and the rock. Obama trudges up the hill, pushing the bipartisan boulder before him, only to watch it tumble down again. The key difference in these two visions of the president’s efforts is that while Charlie Brown could, conceivably, some day, actually kick the ball, Sisyphus is cursed to fail for eternity.

The French absurdist Albert Camus insisted “one must imagine Sisyphus happy" because "the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." Obama runs the risk here of becoming this absurd hero, living only to struggle at a task that can never be realized. That is a lovely way to be remembered by history and I’m sure it would warm his heart in his golden years to know that he stuck to his principles, but I’d rather remember him as the president who pulled us out of the trench dug by the Bush hegemony. Maybe even just as the guy who let gays serve openly in the military – anything is better than recalling him as the president who best impersonated Wile E. Coyote.

The only thing that has ever created bipartisanship in our government is war – we are usually pretty unified in kicking the shit out of someone – and even on that it’s not much of a stretch across the aisle for Republicans, who are mostly gun-loving hawks anyway. Bipartisan governance has never existed in any democracy – hell, even Julius Caesar had to deal with filibusters by Cato the Younger. Factionalism is actually an integral part of how democracies have always worked – Obama needs to stop trying to undo human nature.

In fact, Mr. President, you just need to accept it. They are never going to join with you, never going to let you succeed, and while I can admire your impressive stomach for failure, we all need you to get some shit done before the political pendulum swings back to the right. Once that happens, they are just going to claim the Democrats strong-armed them anyway – if you’re going to be accused of it regardless, you might as well go ahead and do it. Change the cloture rules, kill the filibuster, do whatever it takes, but swing the sledgehammer the American people have given the Democrats, and let the GOP push the rock for a while.

Disaster Area

Ok, brace yourself kids. This is not going to be pleasant.

I am sick to death of hearing about the relief effort in Haiti.

Not because the sitution isn't dire.

Not because donations aren't needed.

Not because we've given enough or done enough already.

Not because I am a heartless bastard like the members of the "National Alliance for Liberty and Freedom, a coalition of national libertarian, tea party, objectivist, and Ayn Rand groups" - the asshats who run this site...

No, I'm sick of it because it took an earthquake for the aid to arrive.

Long before this disaster, Haiti was recognized as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. According to the CIA World Factbook, 80% of Haiti's population lives below the poverty line, and 54% live in abject poverty. They have suffered occupation and oppression by Western nations (the U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934) throughout the nation's existence. After they won their independence and became the first black republic in 1804, the slave-trading nations boycotted them and pushed their emerging economy into ruin. In order to lift the boycott, in 1838 they agreed to repay French slave owners for the land they lost in revolution, to the tune of 150 million francs, plus interest. That debt was borne by the Haitian people until payed off in 1922.

They struggle with a mostly agricultural economy that is susceptible to natural disasters, and an imbalance between export crops and food crops that leads to widespread hunger. Illiteracy and ignorance are rampant as only 30% of their children begin to attend school, and of that number only 2% stay in school past the 5th grade. There is a test at the 5th grade called the "sertifica" which students must pass to go on in the public schools. It is in French, so those who speak only Creole (that is the poor, the bulk of the population) have little to no chance of passing it.

They have no infrastructure to speak of. Roads, bridges, dams, sanitation facilities, utility companies, phone lines - all are largely absent in Haiti. Haiti's government is among the most corrupt in the world, and millions in donations from outside the country that were intended for public works have been skimmed off into the pockets of the elites.

What few jobs that are available outside the agricultural sector are largely manufaturing. Rather than pay the national minimum wage of $2.60 an hour, companies base their pay system on piece work, which reduces the actual rate of pay to less than $2.00 per hour. Even this pittance is double the $1.00 per hour typical in the agricultural sector. Historically, unions have been the antidote to this kind of exploitation, but with hundreds of thousands unemployed there is no hope or leverage for a workers movement.

So once the dust has settled, the dead have been buried, the ex-presidents asking for donations go home, the text message donation lines are closed, and the pictures of the devastation stop making ratings, Haiti will STILL be a disaster area – but we only make donations to clean up natural disasters, not the ones we helped make.

Resolution Results

In our most recent poll, I asked:

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

The results were not really shocking - we are fat, out of shape, spendthrifts who refuse to give up our addictions. The numbers are below.

Lose weight. (61%)
Quit smoking/drinking/shooting up/huffing gas, etc. (7%)
Work out. (53%)
Get better grades. (23%)
Finish my novel. (23%)
Eat my veggies. (23%)
Spend more time with my loved ones. (23%)
Save money. (53%)
Finish... something. ANYthing. For once in my life... (23%)
No need for resolutions - I'm perfect as I am. (15%)
No resolutions - there is enough failure in my life already. (23%)

Perhaps the 15% who are perfect could act as life coaches for the rest of us...

Stupid Quotes

Some really stupid racist things have been stated publicly of late. Some have been honest mistakes - poor choices of words or just cases of ignorance that carried no hostile intent - while some were purposely malicious. Let's sort the bigots from the idiots, shall we?

"'Light-skinned" and having "no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.'" Ok, so Harry Reid chose his words poorly, but doesn't anyone remember that back during the primaries and the election there was a lot of discussion by members of both parties about Obama's complexion and his elocution? I even recall a few mentions of his mixed race parentage, and comments that he might not be black enough. So now a book comes out and we discover that Harry Reid was taking part in that discussion, and suddenly the Right is trying to paint him as a grand wizard of the KKK. Reid's comment is not so very different from the comments folks made about Dan Quayle - both his appearance and his elocution were heavily discussed. Of course in his case, it was usually noted that he looked quite a bit like Robert Redford and spoke like he had a brain injury, but you see my point.

In a somewhat similar vein, Michael Steele's ridiculous "honest injun" comment is another slip of the tongue that has been overplayed. Yes, it's offensive to Native Americans, but it's obvious that he didn't say it with any ill intent. It appeared to be an ordinary bit of dialog for him - which doesn't make him a bigot, it just makes him oblivious to the offense he's doing. It also makes me wonder a bit about his upbringing - I am curious where this black version of "Leave it To Beaver" took place, and how his vocabulary has managed to stay in 1958...

Now on to the truly malicious - Pat Robertson's "pact with the devil" explanation for the Haitian earthquake is one of the most reprehensible things that has been publicly broadcast in quite a while. Perhaps only slightly more reprehensible than his assertion that Katrina was caused by queers and abortion clinics. The obvious heartless insensitivity of the comment aside, I have a small logistical question. If the pact with the devil was made in order to help the slaves of Haiti free themselves from the rule of Napoleon, then it would have to have been made prior to 1804 revolt led by Francois-Dominique Toussaint L'ouverture. That was 206 years ago - why did it take so long for the heavenly father to get around to dishing up this disciplinary tremor? Is God's inbox that full?

Not to be outdone, Rush Limbaugh took the opportunity to call the Obama administration's promise of $100 million in aid to Haiti an attempt to gain credibility with "both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country." And so we come full circle - I'm certain that he only used those qualifiers to keep the unfortunate wording of Harry Reid's quote fresh in the minds of his listeners. I'll give Rush credit; he can offend like no one else.

I'm just going to make a donation to the Red Cross and turn my TV and radio off for a while...

Holiday Wrap-Up

I have returned from the Northern Stronghold of the Papal Mother (known by mortals as "Oregon") and I have learned a few important things...

1) A 2:00AM blow out of the Popemobile's left front tire about 20 miles west of Evanston, WY made it clear to me that the good people at AAA deserve every penny of my membership dues. The tow truck driver who came out to assist us was awesome and deserves a medal, or at least some kind of hot drink.

2) Giving your sister's 4-year old a drum set for Christmas is just as awesome as it sounds - as long as you get to drop the gift and leave. Having to listen to her arhythmic flailings for the next three days was just poor planning on my part.

3) The gift of the year for the wayward pope on your list was the TomTom GPS - I actually got two of them. One was returned for cash, which I cleverly turned into a new tire (see #1 above).

4) The udu is a great stress reliever, and it has proven to be the perfect background noise for the chatting and gaming that takes place in the Flockhall great room on a nearly daily basis. Now that I have started to understand the various sounds that are possible, I really want to get an internal microphone so I can record my random thumping (not to be confused with arhythmic flailings, see #2 above).

5) Disney's return to old school animation, The Princess and the Frog, was not nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be. If you have access to a young child who can legitimize your presence at the theatre, go see it. The moral of the story appears to be that feckless European princes should not mess with voodoo, and wishing on stars still works. Also, marriage is key to happiness and curse-breaking.

6) The most recent movie version of Sherlock Holmes was much like my experience of reading the books - a resounding "eh." I didn't hate it, but I won't sit through it again, much to the chagrin of certain inmates of Flockhall. I suspect said inmates are simply interested in gawking at the shirtless Robert Downey Jr., and screw them, they can wait for Ironman 2.

7) Lastly, I have found that a month off from just about all responsibilities is not good for the Pontifex Niger. I am, by nature, shiftless and lazy, so giving me license to indulge my base inclinations only leads to sloth. While I feel good about some of my activities over the last four weeks - I have returned to a regular running program, I have practiced my guitar much more, and I have done some reading for pleasure - for the most part it seems that lack of structure turns me into a slovenly oaf. Perhaps it's best that I was swapped at birth with a pauper, saving me from the angst of noblesse oblige - everything happens for a reason, children.