Posts filed under ‘This here is America’

Dear John McCain

Dear John McCain,

Tough break, old timer. I always liked the cut of your jib. But things got a little crazy and…

You got in bed with Bush. It was short, and you probably faked it, it still happened and you spent the rest of the campaign explaining it away: you had just come away from an ugly fight with Mitt, you were traveling a lot, and you needed the attention. But we all knew you could have better than that. 

The arch conservatives hoped it would lead to something meaningful, that Bush could make a man out of you, but they could see that your tryst was just that.

2000 should’ve been your year. You were strong, independent, straight talking and for a veteran politician, seemingly fresh and spry. But you were also in Rove’s sights, which led to racist vitriol spread by a prickly political operative you recently hired to help you run a respectful campaign in South Carolina.

In 2008, you came off as crazy-old-kootish, especially when it came to Iraq and Iran. Then you decided to go with Palin. She helped breathe a little air into your campaign, but ended up helping Saturday Night Live (and 30 Rock) more than anything else.

In the end, however, you lost for two reasons. The first was the economy, which seemed to go further and further down the shitter in concert with your chances of winning. The second, and more important, was your inability to convey change. You may have been a maverick, but that was during the Restoration, and now you’re a white man who is older than most vampires. You’ve worked in Washington D.C. for ever, and although you have courageously taken on your own aisle–recently, with campaign finance reform, torture, the errors of the Iraq war–you spent this campaign looking, speaking and acting like any other white old Washington D.C. partisan.

Of course, I still like you, and other Obama supporters do too (maybe more than the apathetic social conservatives who so unenthusiastically supported you). I hope you didn’t take the loss too hard, or too personally, even though it was entirely personal.

You’re concession speech was characteristically, but still inspiringly, noble and understated. You seemed genuinely proud of this country for tapping Obama, and you pledged your support for him.

Even the I’m-OK-really-but-really-totally-drunk, self-congratulatory white people in the West Village bar clapped when you left the stage, not just because of what was to come, but in appreciation of your inspiring prelude. We were drunk.

I hope this defeat hasn’t hurt you that much. If history has proven anything, it’s that you can take a lot of shit and keep going. So I hope you do keep going, and that your loss has reinvigorated the maverick in you.

Will you ask your wife if I can have $5,000,000 please? And is she wearing emerald contacts just to scare liberal children?




November 10, 2008 at 11:37 pm Leave a comment


This week has been crazy crazy crazy, with the U.S. history presentations to the students going to the US and the public speaking and the confronting students who cheat and the realization that Obama is in fact a mortal (and a politican) and the oooooogle.

I’ve been playing around with this non-Photoshop photo editing program. And I’ve been waxing (in a way that is quite nostalgic) about the Minnesota State Fair.

Here is a photo of a ride there, remixed. I’m so dang tired.

July 23, 2008 at 12:02 pm 1 comment

fourth of july fAkE lIfE

Fourth of July    fAkE lIfE    Fifth of July


Sometimes I think, wow I’m really in Yemen. This is real, for real, and I’m living a very tip-of-your-fingers-taste-of-your-tongue for real life. Yes, I can taste it. Yes, I can feel it. Yes, but no.


fAkE lIfE is so really fake and extremely fakely real.

Now, I’m not much of a patriot, but I do miss those quiet nights in the land of the relatively free, sipping tall boys while others do in kind, quietly but openly, a bit hidden but not veiled.


I spent Uncle Sammy’s birthday eating eggs at a fish mokhbaza, sans booze of course, and driving around Sheikh Othman with my friends so that the other American, Sam Sam from Alabama, could see a camel (yes, yes, there are pictures). Plus, I was bummed because my hard-wrought love letter was read its rites even before it was D.O.A.


So the day after the fourth rolled around, and I decided that I really needed a slew of red, white and blue brew.


But the closest PBR tall boy is bobbing up and down in the surf outside of Jersey, so a Georgian (the state) friend and I settled for Heines at the bar here in Aden. I don’t know what this bar is called, but it’s about two city blocks beyond the Seaman’s Club (a wildly decadent, neon red nightclubish relic of the British occupation) in the Tawahi district of Aden.


The bar is situated along the busy thoroughfare of Aden’s port. You can look out from the rickety tables arranged on a gravel ground, beside the water, towards giant tankers and barges that have come in to drop this off, or to pick up that. Across the bay is a series of large cranes, which drop and pick up shipping containers. Nearby, there is a structure that looks like an inverted L. This is where the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in 2001.


But we didn’t sit outside. We walked into the bar / restaurant area and sat down. Groups of mostly middle aged men and a few women gazed at us as we sat down.


Like the Seaman’s Club close by, this bar is a hang-out for Yemeni and Saudi men, who never stopped drinking after South Yemen ceased being a socialist republic and came under the control of the more conservative / traditional north.


Women come here too. They are mostly prostitutes, according to expats, who may or may not really know (sexpats?). A few women came in fully veiled. They sat down and threw their niqabs back over their hijabs. Two of them were wearing a remarkable amount of foundation, which gave their cheeks a chalky pallor. The other woman, who was a bit bigger, had a black eye. All were chewing qat.


A few stray cats scurried in between the tables. My friend thought they were rats at first.


We ordered the beers and cheered to this and that. The Prince came up quite suddenly, but he made sure to kiss both of our hands and welcome us and to pledge his help for any problem we might encounter. He was drunk, and animated. He made sure we understood him when he said, ‘I am a prince from southern Yemen.’ And he was insistent that ‘we are all…from Earth.’ ‘This,’ he continued, pointing at my heart, ‘this is the most important! Surprise. Surprise.’


One of the uniformed guards outside, who had been checking bags and even looking under some men’s shirts, noticed the Prince talking to us. He walked in, and the Prince seemed to know why. He yelled something at the guard, then turned towards us. He said something in English, with emphasis on the word ‘surprise’, and then something else in English, or Arabic. Then he cursed the guard for grabbing his shoulder, but he seemed a bit relieved to be leaving.


Then the Californian came up to our table. He was a middle aged man with a stylish limp. He wore khakis, a black pin stripped shirt with the first four buttons unbuttoned, a New Era hat with a big $ on the front, and a belt buckle in the shape of a .45. “Excuse me. I’m sorry. You have to be careful.’ He patted my friend’s hand. “Yemenis, they aren’t good. Of course I am from Aden” he continued, now patting my hand, “you must be careful. They will…I’m from California.” He took out his wallet, and showed us his California driver’s license. “You see? I will be sitting over there. You need anything, you come over.”


Thank you. He nodded, and sat down with his friends.


My friend and I drank to this and that, shared some stories about Addis Ababa and love and hearts and minds, oh, and we surreptitiously discussed Jerusalem and its claimers using letters such as P and I.


The Cousin, who had been looking at our table as he slowly made his way through his own bottle of Gin, stood up at the Californian’s table, shouting and gesturing at the Californian. The Californian looked around anxiously, but didn’t stand.


The Cousin moved to another table, then came to our table. ‘Excuse me,’ he started, ‘you are American?’ Yes. ‘I was in argument with him,’ he said, pointing towards the Californian, who was anxiously watching him. ‘I was talking to the embassy today, in Sana’a. I talked to them today,” he continued, as the guard outside started to gesture towards him, “they…they transferred me to the Yemeni official,” he said incredulously. “I called them…my cousin. He owns a shop in New York. Very successful. Lots of money. He owns a shop. He bought trucks, you know, like to transfer gasoline. I found out accidentally. I’m drunk.” My friend excused herself to go to the bathroom.


“He’s going to drive the truck to the United Nations. He will use it as a weapon. I have a guilty conscience. I found out accidentally.” He started to weave a bit. “I want, I called the embassy. I tried to tell them.” By now, the guard was opening the door and looking towards the Cousin. “There are too many people in the United States. Innocent people. I have a guilty conscience. I don’t want to watch this on the news.  I swear on my mother’s grave…will you, if you please, will you give me the number of the FBI or the CIA? Or I give you my number, and you tell them, the CIA or the FBI, or Homeland Security?”


My friend came back from the bathroom. The guard gently patted the Cousin on his shoulder. He looked a bit embarrassed, but a little relieved to be leaving.


Then the Californian came up. “You have to be careful,” he started, looking around, “just be careful. You need anything, you come to my table.”


We thanked him. My friend shot me a what-did-I-miss look. I shot her a you-really-really-don’t-want-to-know look, and we both raised our glasses quietly.

July 7, 2008 at 1:19 pm 3 comments


Sorry it’s been a while, my friends. Had a bit of a rough one last week, with the new classes and the fractured heart and the runs.

But it’s all good.

The sun is still oppresively shining and the birds are still chirping in a nature reserve 20 minutes away from my hotel.

America, I miss you bro. I know you’re having a tough time with the subprime and the credit cards and the transfatty foods and Obama’s running mate and Mike Meyers in a crazy wig and floods and the fires and the oil and the ogggggggle.  I’m with you, I miss you.

I remember your last birthday. I drank forties and watched this go down:

 Thanks for the memories Boston. So epic, Eric.

Happy belated birthday, bro! Hope you let your hair down. Had a few brews. Fired up the barby. Kicked it.  I know how you do.

In Aden, our nation’s birthday fell on Firday, or Islam’s Sunday, so my employers gave us Saturday, America’s Monday, off for observence. I proceeded to kick it quite hard. There weren’t many fireworks or anything like that, but I did manage to grab a few brews with a brah from Georgia. More on the bar later…

My good friend and former student Mohammad Saad emailed me note that I found quite touching, so I’m forwarding it onto you, America.

how are you?
i hope to usa life happy every year
 and american people.
((( 4th july))).

July 6, 2008 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

Obama’s speech (the one on race)



 Barack Obama’s rhetoric surely soars. He’s eloquent and folksy, idealistic and…idealistic. Many of us not-so-young-youngsters, who are stumbling through the third, or up to the fourth decade of our lives, have equated Obama with a break from politics as they are, politics as usuaaaal. His sprawling legions of devoted followers, campaigners, volunteers, and cheerleaders are barely able to breathe while they heap praise on this singular person, this African-American, who will change the gears and oil the joints of this rusty, white American political machine.

Obama’s campaign has hitherto been able to use race as part of his message of hope quietly, but it has always been part of campaign. His race was in the background, but helped his ascendency by energizing those of us who desperately want to believe that we live in a society that can elect a African–or Latino or Jewish or Korean or Albanian or Hindu or Chilean or Comanche or Arab or…–American president.

We want to believe this because the corrosive effects of racism are on display, in every corner of our waking lives, our books, magazines, newspapers, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, sitcoms, crime dramas, news reports, talk shows, and the cinema. There is a certain race fatigue among us, I think, mingled in with or brushing up against a hope that America will move into a direction of ethnic neutrality, or perhaps a more tolerant, coexisting, candy-colored collectivity.

Obama has spread his arms towards the youth, and with an intoxicatingly bright  message, he has discovered a young yearning hitherto buried in a solid bedrock of cynicism and apathy. His campaign promises include the restoration of America’s international prestige, bringing jobs to depressed areas (which seem to be growing quickly), changing NAFTA, insuring the uninsured, bringing troops out of Iraq, bringing  peace into Israelistine, making the world greener, pressuring Ahmadinejad, coaxing Assad, rooting out Bin Laden in Waziristan, and fixing the great racial divide that has plagued America since its inception. And still have some time left over to breathe, eat, drink, (smoke?) and raise his young children.

Now that is surely audacious.

Obama is like all other politicians in one very predictable (and probably necessary) way: he is a serial promiser. But can he deliver?

Come on, big media, ask him! How, Obama? How?

Nah. At some point in the 24 hour news cycle, it was decided that Obama’s connection to Reverend Jeremiah Wright was more important than his ability to deliver. A shroud of doubt was cast over his candidacy, by Hillary’s battalion in lock step with Rush Limbaugh’s legions (but not John McCain, because he is color blind when questioning Democrats’ patriotism).

This sudden anxiety only deepened a fissure already opened by the crusading talk radio heads, and their more attractive (and subtler) television friends, when they decided to focus on Obama’s middle name. Not only is it a Muslim middle name, but it is that Muslim middle name. Oh, and that picture of him in the robes!!!

The second sudden anxiety, over Obama’s relationship with Wright, has come to Obama at an awkward moment. Having recently lost Texas and Ohio, he saw his streak of 11 (or was it 12) state caucus and primaries come to an end. Clinton has come back and the fact that her chances of beating Obama in a delegate count are quite improbable hasn’t stopped her. Rather, she’d prefer if Obama just forgot his meteoric rise in popularity and delegates, forgo all of the support he’s built up in the grassroots and in those smoky back rooms, and just take 2nd place like a man.

Why the press waited until now to make this an issue (Hillary on SNL?) is beside the point. They did and Obama had to answer, lest he lose even an inch of that mile he had taken from the overwhelmingly white (and male) political culture. The clanging of pundits jaws and the apparent wringing of our body politic’s hands forced the Junior Senator from Illinois-who some subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) remind us is married to a woman who only recently became “proud of America”-to do what he absolutely does best: give a speech about the condition of America, and why we should come together. 

It was necessary that Obama address race, a subject he has been reluctant to discuss so far. It is one of the bigger elephants in our nation’s living room. Racial divisiveness and inequality exist today, in implicit and explicit ways. Draconian sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, high unemployment rates. And a concentration of violence in largely black neighborhoods (Chris Rock once said that the most dangerous block in any American city was Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Unfortunately, many people, especially public figures, act and speak as if we live in a society that is post-racism.

Commentators, especially those aligned with Clinton or the “right” decided that [white] America deserved an explanation for Obama’s relationship with the raucous reverend. This is politics as usuaaal defined: a profoundly important issue, like race, used to rationalize a pithy paranoia about a person or event somehow connected to the candidate. By using this, um, card, Clinton’s people and the media have put the emphasis not on race, or racial inequality, but on the dynamics of Obama’s relationship to the reverend.

He started simply, with “Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street…” He was giving the speech in Philadelphia. Then he dived right into a candid discussion of racial problems hitherto only hinted at by our public officials. His words were uttered with conviction and humility. He affirmed the greatest part of the United States, its insanely diverse population, and eloquently tied the progress of the U.S. to a rethinking of the racial problems of our republic.

He addressed the legacy of racial injustice and its lingering effects on black communities:
That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.

He acknowledged white angst, which so many white media types and politicians  have exploited over the years:
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch… when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
He addressed the reverend’s controversial remarks:
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
Most importantly, however, he reminded us that the problems facing our nation effected us all:
This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.

This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

It would have been quite easy to throw the reverend under the bus. Instead, he leveled with us. He treated the American people respectfully, and explained himself eloquently.

No matter. For those who were clamoring the loudest, Obama’s nuanced refreshingly blunt and seemingly honest explanation of his relationship with the reverend was much to, well, nuanced and honest. He didn’t reject the reverend, they clamored. He didn’t condemn the reverend!!

Of course, those on the ‘right’ were nonplussed. Writing in the New York Post and for the National Review online, Rich Lowry complained that despite his criticisms of the reverend, Obama defended him in “exceptionally high-end sophistry.” Even while acknowledging Obama’s honest insights into the plague of racism, Lowry dismissed Obama’s public persona as “always himself in his glorious personhood, the salve to the country’s ills.”

Juan Williams, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Eyes on The Prize, also chided the senator for not condemning the pastor. Williams told Fox News (one of his employers), that he was disappointed Obama didn’t renounce the reverend. He concluded with saying Obama had been “severely damaged” by his relationship to the reverend.

The reverend said a lot of things that are anathema to how many Americans of all colors see their country. He also said a lot of things that many people of all races secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, believe about our government.

Other public religious figures, steeped in politics, have uttered (or vociferated) similarly controversial opinions on the state of the union and its problems. The late televangelist Jerry Falwell famously said of 9/11:
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.

His friend, Pat Robertson, another televangelist with deep ties to conservative politicians, concurred. He has also said some things that some of his followers might not have liked. Last year, reported that on the February 7th, 2007, broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson raised some eyebrows when he said that “people who have received too much plastic surgery ‘got the eyes like they’re Oriental’ while he put his fingers up to the side of his face.”

There are countless examples of religious leaders saying things that are hurtful, racist, or just plain dumb. The problem is that there are plenty of people in the crowds that agree.

People should be concerned about Wrights comments, but no more or no less so than they should be concerned with some of the odious things that come out of the mouths of priests, rabbis, mullahs, and other religious leaders.

What people should be wondering about Obama is not his ties to the reverend. They should be wondering if he can deliver on his promises of hope and reconciliation. There is still no substantial proof that he can do so, but after hearing this speech, I certainly hope that he gets a chance to try.

March 26, 2008 at 3:14 pm 2 comments

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