16 October 2006

Men Working

I am exhausted. I spent yesterday roto-tilling the back portion of our yard - about 1400 square feet in total. It had been a vegetable garden but was neglected in recent years.

Rob and I felt it was time to reclaim the back yard, and this is the beginning of the process. In the spring, we'll be doing some landscaping, and hopefully, if money allows, we'll install an automatic sprinkler system.

While tilling, I unearthed a treasure. I heard the teeth of the tiller scrape against something metal. I stopped the tiller and noticed what looked like one edge of a lawnmower blade. But it wasn't. It was a vintage men's room sign - aluminum, painted with enamel.

I've decided the sign needs a second life, but I'm not sure what to do with it just yet.

13 October 2006

As the Dear Leader Turns

I dispute the notion that Kim Jong-il is crazy. If he truly was unhinged, he would have been defenestrated long ago. I read a book about the Kim dynasty called "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader." The author uses a lot of source material to suggest that while Kim is the undisputed dictator of North Korea, he speaks on behalf of a large extended family whose very wellbeing depends on the DPRK's survival. The legitimacy of the regime - you know, the notion of juche, stalinism, and confucian spirituality - is really a house of cards, and the author suggests that the small elite in the DPRK knows that much. But their survival and their wealth - and there is a lot of it - depends on keeping the regime as opaque and mysterious as they possibly can.

Imagine - a nation where travel is restricted, opportunities are foreclosed, concentration camps are maintained, education is limited, and starvation and famine are permitted - all because a few thousand people want to live in quiet luxury!

The book suggests that Kim's leadership is attenuated by the demands of this family, who propagate his legitimacy throughout the nation. He in turn funnels signifcant assets, resources, and opportunities to them. It seems to be a very durable, mutually agreed-upon relationship.

Whether or not the book is right, I have a hard time dismissing Kim as a power-mad dandy. He has played regional and world powers too effectively to be dismissed outright. He's an inveterate liar (and an expert, having perfected the craft since the day he was born), a brinksman, and ultimately, a survivor. He is not an ideologue - socialism in the DPRK gave way long ago to kelptocracy and opportunistic capitalism, at least for the elite, while the masses are mired in a subsistence economy while they continue to strive for the "workers paradise" they were indoctrinated to believe in.

The Koreas at night. Electricity in the DPRK is turned off at 9:00 pm, except for Pyongyang.

Kim knows that the power vacuum that would form in his absence would be too much for South Korea and China to bear. He also knows that China does not American troops on its border. He also knows how to play the mutual grievances between China, Japan, and Korea, to hamstring and neutralize the six-party talks. He certainly knows that Russia, deep down in her soul, will never sublimate herself to the Americans in a foreign policy crisis. And so our "six-party" strategy plays right into his strategy of dissembling and biding time.

Sure, the DPRK speaks well of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula (as indeed Iran talks about an atomic bomb being un-Islamic...but you and I know that Iran is going to set up a system whereby they are, as they say, only a screwdriver away from a bomb) but I think this is a ploy. The DPRK will be able to say in a few years' time the distrust between the parties requires them to maintain a nuclear arsenal in self defense. Because of his proven nuclear arsenal, Kim will be able to decommission some of his army and cry "victory!" as the troops return home to engage in more productive economic activities, namely the provision of cheap labor for other Asian economies.

So in ten years, one of two things will happen: the regime will be deposed, and it will be a total mess; or the DPRK will be building more cheap cars for China and South Korea. The Kim dynasty will reap the whirlwind, while the masses will receive piecemeal improvements to their lives, so they can be comforted in their heartfelt belief that workers paradise is slowly, but surely being realized.

06 October 2006

Excuse Me?!

Congress' response to the revelations that forer Representative Mark Foley engaged in inappropriate online conversations with teenage boys has only revealed to me the depths to which the national Republican Party has sunk to since 2000. If there was any question if the Republicans deserved re-election last week (in my mind, there wasn't), what we have learned since then reinforces my belief that the Republicans have lost the mandate and the trust of the electorate.

The issues surrounding Mark Foley and his unconscionable acts (while they may not have been illegal in an age-of-consent sense, they are certainly revolting, especially considering the power differential between a current or former congressional page and a ranking republican congressman) are complex, but for me, the GOP's response to the scandal is far more telling than the scandal itself.

Take for example congressman Tom Reynold's response. The other day, he staged a press conference, surrounded by the young children of his supporters, to declare to the world what he knew and when, and to deny a cover-up. When a member of the press asked him to remove the children in order to facilitate a frank discussion over the acts that Foley committed, Reynolds refused, saying that they were his supporters and that he was an advocate of children. This is the very nadir of political cynicism and showmanship.

Commentators like Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh have trotted out all sorts of explanations ranging from alcoholism to Bill Clinton to childish pranks to the liberal media to cynical democrats. Then former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich offered this gem last Sunday:
Well, you could have second thoughts about it, but I think had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would have also been accused of gay bashing.

Excuse me?!

This coming from a member of a political party who has repeatedly used gays and lesbians as a wedge issue to incubate the political support of conservative Christians. This coming from a party that, state after state and in the halls of congress, has demonized the potential for gays and lesbians to build lasting, stable, committed relationships and families. To raise the smokescreen of political correctness and gay bashing is shocking, and it makes my blood boil. How dare they?

Nobody I know, gay or straight, would approve of Mark Foley's actions. This isn't about being gay, this is about being a creep. Foley's colleagues in Congress failed to acknowledge the truly greivous and dangerous path he was going down, and so they all deserve to be tossed out.

A Boston Globe editorial rightly compared the congressional GOP's response to the Foley scandal to the Boston Catholic Church's inept handling of abusive priests. Senator Rick Santorum shamefully had this to say about the Catholic Church's scandal in Boston:
When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political, and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

Well we now know better, don't we? This has nothing to do with ideology; it has everything to do with the preservation of power. And when any group is so self-centered that their primary concern is the maintenance of their own control, then quite simply it is time for them to go. That includes lechers like Mark Foley, scapegoaters like Gingrich, opportunists like Reynolds, and hypocritical moralists like Santorum.
Incompetence, abuse of power, and corruption: George W. Bush, former FEMA director Michael Brown, and former congressman Mark Foley (courtesy Andrew Sullivan).

Where the Hell Have I Been?

I know, I'm a loser.

I start up a blog, post a few times a week, get my friends involve -- and I abandon it. I'm sorry.

You know what, though? It's been an insane couple months for me. But I'm back, and I promise to keep up the posts because there's just so much to talk about.

So where have I been?

Well, in late July, I went to St. Louis to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday and my uncle's 75th, and it was nice being with my family to celebrate the occasion. I'm also proud of my dad - he's in better health in body and spirit than I've seen him in a long time. Way to go, Dad!

During our St. Louis trip, my Dad, my sister Cathy and her son Robbie, my cousin David, and my best friend Alex and I went to Six Flags St. Louis and had a fabulous time. I brought my backpack with me, and it had all of my electronic gear - a digital camera, a cell phone, and an iPod (which I didn't even realize was in there) and to the last one they all got fried because I got DRENCHED in a whitewater raft ride. Foolishly, I didn't put my backpack in a locker.

I ended up replacing my cell phone in St. Louis, and I just recently bought a new camera - a digital SLR that I had been eyeing for a long time, thanks to Alex.

The first week of August took me to Boise, Idaho where I gave a presentation with my best friend Danny on the impacts of big-box retail at a regional planning conference. Our presentation was reasonably well-received and, more importantly, we had fun doing it. Danny, ever the frat boy, made me party harder than I ever did in College. All these months later, I'm still recovering. He introduced me to my first cigar, which tasted good...but I'm not sure it was worth the trouble: Afterward I felt like a dog. had to take a shower and I brushed, rinsed, and flossed TWICE.

When I returned, a friend of mine was in a difficult domestic situation at home and he needed a change, so Rob and I invited him to stay with us until such a time as he could get on his feet and on his own. For the month of August, he joined our little family of two and we ultimately got him secured into a very nice basement apartment (with a garden, natch!) near the University of Utah.

Also in August, a man resigned from the at-large seat on the South Salt Lake City Council. State statute provides for the council to select a replacement, so I applied and threw my heart and energies into running. I knew I faced challenges as a gay non-Mormon man, but I also knew that I had some advantages - my work on the planning commission has been quite an education and I have some friends in the city who were willing to stake their names to my campaign. It was a wonderful experience, having talked with so many people and having learned a lot about myself in the process.

Despite my efforts, I was unsuccessful. In the end, a loquacious grandfater got the seat, and a lot of us challengers were left shaking our heads. But I felt like I did everything I could in order to gain the seat. While I didn't win, I feel I gained a lot of respect. I may try again in an election in the future, but for now I'll keep working on the commission and assisting the political campaigns of others, such as my state senator, Scott McCoy. He's smart, dignified, competent, and capable. He's also openly-gay. He's an inspiration for me and for the community.

In my free time, I've been reading a couple magnificent books, including Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here and Austen Tappan Wright's Islandia. I'm also enjoying reviewing the second season of Battlestar Galactica (television's best show currently) before I start the third season.

So that brings me to now. I'm back, and I'm sorry I went silent for a while.

The view from my window at work.