Monday, June 18, 2007

The day after Father's Day

Yesterday was Father's Day, and I've found myself feeling distracted and melancholy all day today. I think I miss my Dad.

The odd part is, that would make a lot more sense if he was dead.

Let me explain.

Especially in the last several years, I've always had a pretty good understanding of myself. Some people go through life doing what other people expect, and never figure out why they aren't happy.

I got out of the military because George Bush got reelected. Unlike a lot of people, I've figured out what's important to me. I've looked into myself, found a person that I kind of like, and I cultivated that guy. I'm comfortable in my own skin.

My father was a career Army officer. A graduate of West Point and a field artilleryman, he eventually earned a degree in nuclear physics. So basically, he just kept finding bigger and better ways to kill more and more people. I always thought that was kind of cool.

But he was also a good officer. Which means that, to a large extent, he had to put his career first. "If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one, maggot!" It's not just a line in a movie - there are people in every branch of the service who actually believe it.

And he always had great control of his emotions. He'd laugh a lot, but only occasionally a full-out guffaw - it was more of an echo of laughter than a real sound of pleasure. But I remember him seeing him angry several times (it was usually my fault), and I could actually see it in his eyes. But for the most part, he kept himself on a fairly short leash.

So while I was growing up, I wasn't as close to my father as I might have liked.

Then, sometime after I graduated high school, he retired and moved clear across the country, from Virginia to Oregon. I only moved halfway across the country (from Virginia to Texas), and eventually entered the Air Force.

I was never sure what my father thought about my choice of:
1. The Air Force, and
2. the enlisted branch of the Air Force
He had to feel some pride that I was continuing the family tradition of military service, I suppose. But most officers also see the enlisted ranks as "grunts." The low end of the evolutionary scale. Cannon fodder. So I'm really not sure how he felt about that.

I was never a great fit in the military. And I'd never planned to spend more than one tour in the Air Force anyway. But with one thing and another, I was enlisted for 21 years, plus a few months.

My first base was in California. A days drive south Gold Beach, Oregon, where my parent had chosen to retire. I used to go visit them every year or so. At least at Christmas, if not more often.

During that time, my father grew his beard out, relaxed a lot, and became a genial gentleman farmer. My kids loved him. He laughed and joked and built things for them.

He wasn't the same guy I knew relatively well as a kid, but I adapted. Never really managed to get through the distance between us, though. There was always just the thinnest of separations. And I always thought that was a shame.

My wife can wax eloquent about her father. She can reminisce for hours about the things they did together when she was a kid. It nearly killed her when he died.

My dad is just some guy.

When my mom died, I had to come back from Germany for the funeral. My dad had been married to her for decades, and for the most part, I'm pretty sure that he loved her. He broke down several times over the course of that week. I'd never seen that before.

But life went on. I went from Germany to Wyoming, and then down here to Albuquerque. My dad sold the farm and did some traveling; he even lived in a motor home for awhile.

And then he married a woman in Gold Beach named Ann. She had a relatively large family in California, and she'd apparently always been close to them. They drove south to visit them all the time. Eventually, they even moved down there, to build a house and be closer to her family.

But oddly, farther from his.

I don't think it's anything conscious on their part - Ann has just always visited her kids. They're very close. I've only seen my father a limited number of times since he married her. We're not.

Things haven't been getting better as the years have passed. I'll call on birthdays, anniversaries, Father's Day. We usually talk for a while, exchange stories about what we've been doing, but it's kind of like talking to somebody in a bar. You tell them what you're doing at work, but nothing deep or meaningful.

Admittedly, I never called on Mother's Day - Ann might have thought it was a nice thing to do, but I have to admit, I'm closer to my father than I am to her. And she's never been my mother. She might be a nice lady, if a little straight-laced for my tastes. But she's never warmed to me.

Maybe it's because I've never fixated on money and fashion. I'm not a "success," in the classic American "get all you can NOW!!!" sense of the word. I make enough money to get by. I'm not rich. But I'm not broke. And I'm happy. I don't see where getting rich is worth the cost. I work with people who are trying to "claw their way to the top." I'm happy down here, about halfway up.

I have no idea if that has anything to do with how things are. I'm just sayin'. She's very close to her children. I haven't seen my dad in a couple of years now.

And I'll admit it. I haven't made much of an effort to go see him, either. Our phone conversations have become more and more stilted. Neither of us really has anything to say to the other. We talk for about fifteen minutes, more or less. He tells me what he's been doing. I tell him what the kids and I have been doing. Neither of us really goes in to how we're feeling about anything. I say "I love you, dad," and he responds with "I love you, Tiger," (he's always called me "Tiger"), but it's more out of rote habit at this point, I think.

If I were to go visit him, Ann would have no idea how to react, and we'd have stilted conversations at close range instead of over the phone. An uncomfortable few days, and I'd go home again. It doesn't seem worth the trouble.

And that's probably where the problem is. You're ingrained with it as a child in Sunday School: "Honor thy father and mother." Movies and literature are full of people undertaking huge, heroic quests to avenge the death of their father. There's national days to honor each of your parents individually.

What if your dad is just some guy? What if you have little or nothing in common?

And I'm really not sure whether I miss my dad, or if I miss the concept of my dad. I don't know whether there's a hollow spot shaped like him, or whether I just feel like there should be. I know who I am. And I know how I've always been told I should feel about my father. But that place inside me seems a little empty. Society tells me that I should have a bond, and there doesn't seem to be one. No link on either side.

So yesterday, I had a nice Father's Day. I spent it with my family, and I managed to forget to call my own father.

I didn't realize it until today. And I should feel worse about that. What I feel bad about is the fact that I don't really feel bad about it.

Mostly, the only person who tries to make contact in the last couple of years is me. I call him. He doesn't call me. Hell, he didn't even call on my last birthday. And I failed to call him yesterday. I know that I'm supposed to feel bad about that. But you know what? The thing that I feel bad about, is the fact that I don't.

I wonder if he noticed? He probably did. Or if he didn't, I have no doubt that Ann pointed it out to him. I should probably feel bad about that, too.

I don't know if the problem is me, or the lack of him.

And I don't have any answers.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

22 Ways to be a Good Republican

My father, as he is wont to do, forwarded an email to me entitled "How to be a good Democrat." He does things like that, because he doesn't agree with my politics and it tickles his sense of humor.

He forwarded it to my sister in LA, too. (As opposed to my sister in Virginia, the minister.) She responded almost immediately, with a couple of relatively pissy quotes. Even at her advanced age (around 47 or so), she lets people push her buttons. She reacts, and they get to giggle.

(OK, I'll admit it. I've been known to push her buttons, too. It's hard not to: they're big, and red, and labeled in bright colors. You can't help yourself.)

Personally, I sat down and fired off a response, point for point. I've always found that a certain amount of humor is a better way to respond to the ignorant. ("Be pithy, not pissy," if you like.)

If you get the same email, feel free to use mine, if you like. I'm not going to copyright it or anything. (Especially since, with the nature of the internet, I couldn't stop you if I wanted to. But I don't. So it's cool.)

22 Ways to be a Good Democrat.

22 Ways to be a Good Republican

1. You have to be against capital punishment,
but support abortion on demand.

1. You have to support the "Right to Life," unless
it's the life of a prisoner. After all, God said all life
is sacred except for THEIR life, right?

2. You have to believe that businesses create
oppression and governments create prosperity.

2. You have to believe that businesses will ever
work in favor of anyone but themselves.

3. You have to believe that guns in the hands of
law-abiding Americans are more of a threat than
U.S. nuclear weapons technology in the hands of
Chinese and North Korean communists.

3. You have to believe that chemical weapons
sold to the Iraqi government by the US are
sufficient reason to invade Iraq.

4. You have to believe that there was no art before
Federal funding.

4. You have to believe that there is no art
worth funding that doesn't involve dogs
playing poker.

5. You have to believe that global temperatures are
less affected by cyclical documented changes in the
earth's climate and more affected by soccer moms
driving SUV's.

5. You have to believe that global temperatures
are unaffected by increased particles in the
atmosphere, despite what an eighth grade
education would tell you. You also have to
believe everything that the oil companies say.
Because they love you and wouldn't try to
steal from you.

6. You have to believe that gender roles are artificial
but being homosexual is natural.

6. You have to ignore that part of the Bible where it
says"This is the first and greatest Commandment.
The second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself.
On these two
commandments hang all the laws and the
prophets."

7. You have to believe that the AIDS virus is spread
by a lack of federal funding.

7. You have to believe that AIDS is God's
punishment on the wicked, but cancer
is just nature's way of thinning the
herd. (Oh, yeah. And cancer isn't
related to smoking at all.)

8. You have to believe that the same teacher who
can't teach 4th-graders how to read is somehow
qualified to teach those same kids about sex.

8. You have to believe that a man who pays gay
prostitutes to bugger him and sell him
methamphetamines is qualified to judge your
behavior.

9. You have to believe that hunters don't care
about nature, but loony activists who have never
been outside of San Francisco do.

9. You have to believe that hunters need
automatic weapons to hunt herbivores.
Because deer are dangerous.

10. You have to believe that self-esteem is more
important than actually doing something to earn it.

10. You have to believe that self-esteem is
entirely unimportant. Because if you aren't
born rich, you shouldn't feel good about
yourself. (Like Paris Hilton. She should feel
good about herself. And she deserves not
to be in jail.)

11. You have to believe that Mel Gibson spent
$25 million of his own money to make The Passion
of the Christ
for financial gain only.

11. You have to believe that a man who doesn't believe
that the Holocaust happened is qualified to teach
you anything. (Oh, yeah. And it's a good idea to
make a movie in ancient Aztec. There's the
sign of a stable mind…)

12. You have to believe the NRA is bad because it
supports certain parts of the Constitution, while the
ACLU is good because it supports certain parts of
the Constitution.

12. You have to believe that George Bush supports any
part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

13. You have to believe that taxes are too low,
but ATM fees are too high.

13. You have to believe that oil had nothing
to do with invading Iraq. (Let's see. Before we
invaded Iraq, gas prices were $1.50 per gallon.
Now, I'm paying $3.50 per gallon. Why did
we go to Iraq again?)

14. You have to believe that Margaret Sanger and
Gloria Steinem are more important to American
history than Thomas Jefferson, Gen. Robert E. Lee,
and Thomas Edison & A.G. Bell.

14. You have to believe that no woman in American
history did anything except Betsy Ross.

15. You have to believe that standardized tests are
racist, but racial quotas and set-asides are not.

15. You have to believe that black people have never
been discriminated against, and they're poor
because they're lazy.

16. You have to believe that Hillary Clinton is normal
and is a very nice person.

16. You have to believe that, despite being tortured in
a Vietnamese prison camp, John McCain should
support torturing Muslims in Guantanamo.

17. You have to believe that the only reason
socialism hasn't worked anywhere it's been tried is
because the right people haven't been in charge.

17. You have to believe that Halliburton, because of
unfettered capitalism, is doing a good job of
supporting our troops. (Please ignore the
spoiled meat and $100 meals.)

18. You have to believe conservatives telling the
truth belong in jail, but a liar and a sex offender
belonged in the White House.

18. You have to believe that a blowjob is evil, but
taking a country to war based on lies is noble.

19. You have to believe that homosexual parades
displaying drag, transvestites, and bestiality should
be constitutionally protected, and manger scenes at
Christmas should be illegal.

19. You have to believe that Rudy Giuliani's
propensity for dressing in drag means nothing.
(Oh, and you have to believe that there's
nothing odd about conflating bestiality
and homosexuality. After all, they're the
same thing, aren't they?)

20. You have to believe that illegal Democratic
Party funding by the Chinese Government is
somehow in the best interest to the United States.

20. You have to believe that illegal Republican
suppression of voting rights is somehow in the
best interest of the American people.

21. You have to believe that this message is a
part of a vast, right wing conspiracy.

21. You have to believe that any response to
this message is some kind of insane, left-wing
paranoia.

22. You have to believe that it's okay to give
Federal workers off on Christmas Day but it's
not okay to say "Merry Christmas."

22. You have to be stupid enough to believe that
there is such a thing as a "War on Christmas."
Oh, yeah, and the resurrection of a deity has
something to do with rabbits and colored
eggs, too.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

They found us. Can we go home now?

Does anybody remember one of the most oft-repeated mantras of the Bush administration regarding why we needed to stay in Iraq? It was simple enough for Bush to memorize it, and rhythmic enough for the average American to keep it in his head when Fox News went to their commercial break.

"We're fighting them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here."

He’d rephrase it every so often, like "we're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home." And apparently, a lot of people were quoting his talking points back at him, too: "General John Vines put it well the other day. He said: 'We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us'."

He loved that bumper sticker. Or at least, he used to. Somehow, I don't think we'll be hearing that particular quote too often anymore.

You see, a suspected Muslim terrorist cell was just caught in a plot to blow up the JFK International Airport in New York. A big one. A huge plot. A plot that would have created untold death and destruction.
"The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said at a news conference, calling it "one of the most chilling plots imaginable."
Go ask them on Fox News, and I'm sure that they'll tell you what a terrible, evil plan this was: "a plot to create a deadly jet-fuel firestorm reaching from New York to New Jersey."

And it was only stopped by one thing. The dogged determination and unstoppable fortitude of George W. Bush, and his continued insistence on shredding the Constitution.

Well, you know, Bush's policies and the laws of physics.
Federal authorities said that four men were hoping to blow up Kennedy International Airport and a large swath of Queens by detonating a fuel pipeline and storage tanks, but oil industry executives and local officials said yesterday that such a plot was probably not feasible.

While it is true that the tanks at Kennedy Airport are connected to a network of underground pipes that run from New Jersey through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, an exploding tank should not ignite the pipeline, they said. The pipes, which carry jet fuel, gasoline and heating oil, have valves that can be operated from headquarters in Pennsylvania to cut off the flow if sensors indicate that there might be a leak or rupture, said Roy Haase, an official of Buckeye Partners, the company that operates the pipeline.
Having worked most of my life on flightlines, I could have told them that. Fuel pipes have a series of valves and interlocks to prevent an explosion at one point from destroying the whole network. It's pretty simple. You don’t want to lose everything because one smoker can't figure out where to flick his cigarette butt.

Not, of course, that this is the only group of Muslim terrorists who have been captured "on American soil." It was only a month ago that six Keystone-Kop terrorists got caught trying to attack Fort Dix, NJ, wasn't it? A group that was caught, remember, because they took their training film to a local Circuit City to get copied onto a DVD.

Yup, that’s some good tactical planning, right there.

But apparently, despite the fact that the terrorists are apparently able to find America on a map and get here despite all the roadblocks in Fallujah, our President doesn't want to accept that his foreign policy in regards to Iraq could use a little work. In fact, it seems like every time our military does what the President says we need to do in order to go home, he moves the finish line farther back.

Attack Iraq? Yup, did that. Capture Saddam? Did that, too. "Free and democratic Iraq"? Hey, they had elections – doesn’t that count? Every time we have one of those "Mission Accomplished" moments, they come up with some new mission that we're supposed to accomplish.

And now, despite the fact that we're fighting them over there, it seems that we have to fight them over here, too. That doesn’t seem right, does it? If having our troops in Iraq doesn't stop the terrorists from coming to America, shouldn't we bring them back home to protect us here?

But something simple like logic isn't going to help our Republican friends see the light. For some reason, if you throw the words "Iraq" or "terrorism" into the mix, they lose their little minds.

For example, there's Dennis Milligan, the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, who apparently likes the idea of Americans getting killed.
At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001], and the naysayers will come around very quickly
Why does Mr. Milligan hate the American people so much that he wants to see them dead?

Or then there's Dick Morris, another right-wing pundit, who has an even better argument for why we can't "cut and run."
I think that withdrawal from Iraq -- it obviously gives al Qaeda a huge victory. Huge victory. On the other hand, if we stay in Iraq, it gives them the opportunity to kill more Americans, which they really like.

One of the things, though, that I think the antiwar crowd has not considered is that, if we're putting the Americans right within their arms' reach, they don't have to come to Wall Street to kill Americans. They don’t have to knock down the Trade Center. They can do it around the corner, and convenience is a big factor when you're a terrorist.
I love that logic. "That's why we need to keep the military in Iraq! So that the terrorists can kill our troops!"

But maybe that’s the problem right there. There aren't enough American troops in Iraq for the terrorists to kill, and they're fighting back, too! Our Army needs to die faster!!

That's it! It isn't Bush's fault! The terrorists are winning because the military isn't doing a good enough job! They don't make good targets! That must be why the Bush Administration doesn't think that the military deserves a pay raise. The White House is taking all this flak, and it's really the military who sucks!

So, somebody tell me. Why does George Bush hate the military? Do they make him feel like less of a man? After all, there have only been a few Presidents who didn't have documented time in the military: Bill Clinton (who Bush's dad apparently likes better than him), Warren G. Harding, Grover Cleveland - there was a stretch in the first half of the 20th Century where no President had served in the military, but 31 out of 42 Presidents have done time in the military. Even the "increasingly irrelevant" Jimmy Carter did seven years as an officer in the Navy.

And unlike Bush, Carter can document his time. There isn't much to prove Bush's time in the National Guard except for a dog-eared list with his name on it.

So maybe that's the problem. Maybe Bush is experiencing some sort of Freudian disconnect, and that's why he doesn't mind when a few soldiers get killed. Maybe that could explain his behavior lately.

Let's get this man some therapy. And get our troops out of Iraq.