Monthly Archives: December 2012

My Year in Books 2012

Recent Good Reads

With the help of a Kindle and a little more discipline reading on the metro, I think I was able to have a better 2012 than 2011 in terms of volume of reading.

Here is what I read in 2012:

Highlights include How You Lose Her, State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes. Were it not for the dense Heaven On Earth and the long Gai-Jin, I probably could have gotten to a lot more books on my reading list.


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David Frum on Guns in America


Our national delusion seems to know no limits. Mainly I am talking about the likes of Wayne Pierre and his NRA cronies. But they’re not really the problem are they? The problem is the heads-in-the-sand tribal partisanship where people faced with every piece of evidence stacked against their “team’s” position will actually believe something as ridiculous as “guns don’t kill” or “guns aren’t the problem” or “we need more guns” to protect us all.  Or one side will be vehemently anti-war and pro-due process until their president is in power.

What kills me about this is that there are really smart people out there who buy into the partisan rhetoric and will accept utter nonsense as fact.

Let me give you a perfect example: yesterday while on the phone with a family member to say “Merry Christmas” I happened to express one major barrier to to moving back to the U.S., out of this world health care costs. The response I got was, yeah, but when a European gets really sick they come to the U.S. for treatment. Well, first of all that isn’t true. When a European gets sick, they get good, affordable medical care at home. When a super rich European gets really sick they sometimes go to an American hospital for really expensive treatment. When an American, a normal American who is not really rich (in other words, one who could be me) gets really sick, they die and they die broke. They cannot afford elite American health care. To say we have the best medical care would be like saying that America has the best food in the world because it has the most expensive restaurant in New York City. We do not have the best health care system in the world, and we definitely do not have the best health care results. To say or believe otherwise is completely delusional, and when push comes to shove, the only reason to argue that we do is for purely partisan gain (ie, to root for the home team).

Back to guns: conservative writer, David Frum, has taken particular aim at the pro-gun wing of his party, and has done a very effective job at highlighting the correlation between the prevalence of fire arms in the U.S. and the outrageous number of gun-related deaths, injuries and crime, and how all that guns do is turn normal quarrels into violence clashes.  Following Wayne Pierre’s call for federal agents at schools, Frum tweeted a series of news posts on gun violence in America to very effectively demonstrate the extremity of the gun-apologists’ blindness:

From Frum’s December 21st Twitter feed: Continue reading

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Filed under Essays, We The People

Reasons to Love Santa

Cenk Uygur wrote this “Why I Love Santa” article a few years back, but I just found it today. I also love Santa Claus and Christmas and love them from a very, very secular viewpoint. I love the childhood wonderment and innocence, the underlying “white lie” we uphold just because we recognize the value in childhood wonderment and innocence, and because it is a time when “we” go out of our way to do something special for our children but give all the credit to some fictional other. And that’s pretty special.

But mainly I love Christmas because I must have had wonderful Christmas’ when I was a child, and every year at Christmas time, I play all of the music and do all of the decorating to get back that feeling of being surrounding by my parents and grandparents:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on your troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on your troubles will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us, once more

Through the years we all will be together,
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Many times over the past few days, my wife has caught me distant, looking out into the empty space. And when she asked me what was wrong, I’d say, “Oh, nothing, just thinking”. But in my mind I was digging up the images of spying on the tree first thing Christmas morning or driving over the George Washington Bridge from one set of grandparents to the other.

Christmas is the recycling of nostalgia. And while the George Washington Bridge is no longer on my horizon and my parents have just spent their first Christmas alone without their kids in forty-two years, I have taken over the role of Santa Claus and will hopefully fuel a lifetime of nostalgia for Christmas in my son, even if some boozer from up north gets all the credit.

Anyways, enough about me. Here is Cenk’s wonderful piece: Continue reading

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Filed under Digressions, Parenthood

Note to the NRA

Note the NRA

If the Republican alternative universe wasn’t bad enough, if the basic numbers of how much worse gun violence is in U.S. than the rest of the world wasn’t enough, the NRA comes back to the American people with a serious look on its face to call for more armed people at school to protect our children. I’m sure it will be easy enough to vet them all.

After the Columbine massacre, the solution proposed by the NRA was for schools to post the Ten Commandments in the hallways, so you know, the kids would know that killing is wrong. You see, everyone else it to blame for guns deaths. Guns have nothing to do with it.

So it is no surprise that we get another sham response. But, as the above image that I just found posted on facebook clearly reminds us, you could put the school on a military base (where they have tanks and bazookas), and you are still not making anyone safe.

But, hey NRA, keep making these arguments. You’re only digging your own grave. Your days are numbered.

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Filed under Essays, We The People

Does America have an Exceptionally Violent DNA?


Almost every time we have a shooting spree – as American as apple pie – I react with the same observations: how (i) the U.S. is unique in the world in both the prevalence of firearms and the number of deaths by firearms, (ii) nothing serious has been done to address this, and (iii) when violence is perpetrated by someone foreign, we say it is due to the inherent violence and evilness of his culture and religion, whereas our All American shooting spree is never taken as a poor reflection on our values, even though the levels of violence in our society are overwhelmingly greater. Continue reading


Filed under Essays, We The People

2012: The Year Republicans Lost their Alternative Universe

Guns courage

The big political news story of 2012 was not that Obama won the presidential election or that the Republicans lost. That was fairly predictable.

Think about, if you were a strong Republican contender for the highest office of the U.S. would you rather run in 2012 against Obama and inherit a weak economy or would you wait it out until 2016 when you were facing Joe Biden? And even if Hillary had the energy to run, Americans will be too tired of eight years of a Democratic White House to vote her into office.

It’s a no-brainer:  strong contenders sit this one out. So who did we get? We go the Republican psychos Santorum and Gingrich and the unelectable Mitt Romney. Unelectable? Come on, did you ever really think that Americans would elect an elitist millionaire Mormon candidate who pays less than 14% income tax when he’s been transparent about, makes $20 million a year without having a job, hides his wealth in offshore tax havens, and has taken every position imaginable on each and every issue at some point in the last 10 years.

No. Romney’s loss was not newsworthy. What was news worthy was that the GOP’s alternative universe – the one brought to you courtesy of Fox News with the support of the mainstream media insistence on giving equal weight to each side’s viewpoint no matter how absurd – finally unraveled.

So if it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when Romney lost, then why was Romney so “shell shocked” at his defeat?

Why was it that Republicans so vehemently attacked Nate Silver (including calling him too effeminate) who was incredibly successful in 2008? I thought it was the Democrats who hated success and merit based praise?

But in the GOP alternative universe, modern science must never trump the GOP worldview on taxes, the economy, healthcare, Climate Change, marriage equality, marijuana, immigration, or even statistics.

And as Paul Krugman has described,

. . . the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

The GOP’s insularity has led them to such an isolated place that even the numbers guy Mitt was clueless of his own loss. The fact that most Americans are either living in the same isolated place is the biggest tragedy in our modern politics. We are no longer able to honestly and scientifically address the real issues that face our nation in any constructive and effective manner.

Nevertheless, the results of the elections not only validated science as practiced by little Nate Silver, they also showed that Americans were less and less susceptible to the right-wing information bubble. Same-sex marriage swept every ballot it was on as did Marijuana, and Americans didn’t buy the GOP’s argument on taxes. With Hurricane Sandy, Americans started to question the logic of digging your head in the sand on Climate Change. And everyone who bet big on Romney: Grover Norquist, Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, and even Benyamin Netanyahu all have lost big.

The jury is still out on Netanyahu – who spit in the face of comity and very publicly campaigned against the sitting President of the United States – as to whether he will pay a political price. And it appears that he has already.

So while it now seems that the GOP’s fictional tale of taxes, climate change and being in the moral majority is coming to an end, it also looks like the other shoe — guns — is also about to drop.

It’s hard to make the argument to the American people that nothing can or should be done when our kids are slaughtered in the schools when we are so quick to react to a single failed shoe bomber or in how we regulate cough medicine stronger than guns, but refuse to react after 62 mass shootings during the last 30 years with seven alone this year.

Americans may have had enough, and no matter how the GOP or the NRA want to spin it (the NRA has just called for armed guards at all schools), their days are numbered. As Timothy Egon explains:

When the Berlin Wall fell 23 years ago, what started with a couple of hammer swings against an irrational barrier quickly became an irresistible force. At such moments in history, the impossible is self-evident.

So it is in the first cracks in the two most formidable obstacles to progress on guns and taxes. Every valid poll shows that a majority of Americans favor bans on high-capacity ammunition clips and military-style assault weapons. A huge majority — 74 percent in a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey — also say it is “acceptable” to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Yet the will of the people has been consistently thwarted. Why? Because, for a representative democracy, we’ve ceded an inordinate amount of power to a pair of unelected lobbies.

By threat and force, the gun and anti-tax extremists have been able to stop every sensible plea for reform. And by sensible, I mean a tax increase that is still less than the one Bill Clinton put through to great prosperity, and gun restrictions favored by presidents like Ronald Reagan.

Bullying is the favorite tactic of these political thugs in K Street suits, but as the last week has shown, they are also cowards. Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. was quick to rush to the airwaves a few weeks ago after a pro football player shot his girlfriend and himself.

“The American public is disgusted,” he said. “The American public has had their fill of what happened last night.” The violence? No. He was condemning the sportscaster Bob Costas for daring to suggest that we have a conversation about what it means to live and die in the most armed society in history.

If only, he said, gun victims had weapons of their own. Sadly, Nancy Lanza was armed to the teeth, but it couldn’t save her from her own son. The Greek tragedy of Ms. Lanza’s supplying the weapon for her murder proved once again what all the empirical evidence shows: that if you have a gun at home it’s most likely to be used on a family member or someone you know.

The N.R.A. went dark in the week after the school massacre not out of some respect for the dead children, but because it could not make, with a straight face, the absurd argument that if only little kids had been armed they could have saved themselves.

It was left to the politicians owned by the gun lobby to have us view the carnage as the price of freedom. “There’s nothing you’re going to do to prevent evil from occurring,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican of North Carolina.

So the first things to go in the crumbling of these two special-interest titans are their core arguments. Newtown is wretched proof of the utter vacuity of the gun lobby’s excuses, but every comparison to other industrial nations makes the case as well.

So 2012 may go down in the history books as the year the GOP lost more than an election: they lost taxes, moral values, climate change, statistics, and even guns. Good riddance!


Filed under Elections 2012, Essays, Obama 44, We The People

Gossip Girl R.I.P.


If you thought of me before as just another pseudo-intellectual, a poser, a pretender, a wanna-be. Well, it may be worse:

I admit that I have seen each and every Gossip Girl episode in its six season run, including the series finale that was televised on Monday night. I even admit that I feel a little sad that it is over.

My wife found Gossip Girl annoying, not because of its teenybopper-ness, but because after each episode I would go into an in depth (and annoying) criticism of each and every detail of the storyline: its formulaic repetitiveness, the bad acting, the dubious law applied to important plot turns, etc. My biggest pet peeves of the show were the following:

  • Serena’s constant pouting and poutiness. Please, spare me.
  • Nate being just so dumb, Rufus being just so dumb, Ivy/Lola being just so dumb, but mainly Nate being just so dumb
  • This is what a job/working entails: For Nate, putting on a tie and staring at the computer with a severe expression; for Chuck:  looking out the window with a scotch glass in his hand;  and for Blair: yelling a lot.
  • The Bass family may be real estate moguls, but Chuck only owns one hotel. So how is he soooo rich? The numbers don’t add up.
  • College lasted one season. Did they then graduate? Or was campus life just a losing storyline?
  • With the notable exception of a very well developed and executed Chuck Bass, no one had a personality.
  • Season 5 turns on an absurd premise: Blair can’t divorce Louis because of a clause in their per-marital agreement on her dowry which in real life would be completely unenforceable in New York courts, so why waste our time?

As my wife said at each roll of my eyes and each heavy sigh, “if you can’t stand it, then stop watching it”.

It’s not like I find the actors attractive enough to keep me tuned in.  My “I read Playboy for the articles” excuse was that I enjoyed the many aerial views of Central Park and the different New York City bridges, or maybe it should have been that I like to complain.

But the fact of the matter is that I kept watching and was entertained for the past five years, and that is what is important. That alone requires me to give a sincere “thank you” to the Gossip Girl cast and crew.

Thanks, XOXO

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Filed under Digressions

Senate Sends Letter Calling ZD30 on Torture

As you may have already read about, the new film Zero Dark Thirty, which alleges to be the fact-based re-telling of the capture and execution of Bin Laden strongly suggests — regardless of all evidence to the contrary — that information obtained through torture was central to tracking down Bin Laden. The film has also been criticized because of the questionable access that its directors and writer have received from the CIA and White House.

Just yesterday, Senators Levin, Feinstein, and McCain have written a scathing letter directed to Sony Picture’s CEO and Chairman criticizing the film’s depiction of torture and stating in definitive terms that the evidence that led to the Bin Laden operation was not procured through torture, but through other unrelated means.

Senate Letter

They followed with a strong recommendation that that falsehood be corrected:

. . . but the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence.

The use of torture should be banished from serious discourse for these reasons alone, but more importantly, because it is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, because it is an affront to America’s national honor, and because it is wrong. The use of torture in the fight against terrorism did severe damage to America’s values and standing that cannot be justified or expunged. It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts rights.

Please consider correcting the impression that the CIA’s use of coercive interrogation techniques led to the operation against Usama Bin Laden. It did not.

Now, I think Senator McCain is one of the most hypocritical, cynical politicians in recent American memory — for example, he met with and reopened the doors to Gaddafi (including selling him US military technology) along with Condalezza Rice, not to mention  Sarah Palin, yet he can claim with a straight face that Ambassador Rice is unfit for the job of Secretary of State because of her statements on Libya — you do have to give him credit for singing this letter. I would like to know how he squares this with his objection to closing Guantanamo.

As a side note, it is nice to see someone correctly transcribe the name as “Usama” and not Osama, not just because Usama doesn’t rhyme with Obama, but because that is how it is pronounce, with a “U”.

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Filed under Essays, We The People

“How Much Do I Love You”

Parents shouldn’t fool themselves: it’s not that their child is a genius, it’s that all children are brilliant. It’s simply the nature of childhood.

So even though my kid, almost two years old now, may not be exceptional, it sure feels like it.

My wife speaks to our son in Moroccan Arabic, I speak to him in English, and we live in Spain (and he’ll probably go to French school). He is already able to completely distinguish between Arabic and English, and he instantaneously translates conversations between himself, my wife and me. So for example, I will tell him to ask my wife, “are we going outside” and he will immediately replicate what I have said in Arabic. When he asks my wife for something in Arabic and she says no, he’ll turn to me and repeat the question in English. And when he picks up the phone, he says, “Hola, muy bien, muy bien”.

One of the rituals my son and I have established is that every night when I put him to bed, we read three stories and sing a handful of songs. These songs change over time. Right now his favorites are “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer“, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, and “Jingle Bells”. Amazingly just after two weeks of singing Christmas songs, he already knows all of the lyrics and insists that he sings them all by himself.

We’ve already gone through a wide range of song phases that have included variations of “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Old MacDonald”, and the “Farmer in the Dell”, where I am required to change the lyrics to include different vehicle types (firetrucks instead of buses, etc) and include different family members — at his insistence — on the farm. When he was a little younger, I even sang him a host of my favorite “bedtime” tunes from Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, The Beatles, Jim Croce and Cyndi Lauper. Because I could never remember all of the lyrics, I would upload them onto my Kindle which I would then use as a cheat sheet while I sang to him. This didn’t last too long because first, the light on my Kindle became a distraction, and second because he was starting to learn more vocabulary, he wanted songs he could “understand” (ie, ones with trucks and animals).

So once I had to give up my Kindle cheat sheet, the only song that I could remember all of the lyrics to was my favorite Irving Berlin standard, “How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)“. But, he never much appreciated this song (once again, no wheels going round), so I always used it as the last song, just as he was starting to fade.

But I hadn’t sang “How Deep is the Ocean” in over two months.

Until last night. Out of the blue, he interrupts “Grandma goes to sleep, Grandma goes to sleep, hi-ho the diary-oh, Grandma goes to sleep” to insist that I sing …. “How much do I love you”, as in “How Deep is the Ocean”:

How much do I love you
Let me tell you know lies
How deep is the ocean,
How high is the sky

How many times a day do I think of you
How many roses are sprinkled with dew
How far would I travel to be where you are
How near is the distance from here to a star

And if I ever lost you,
how much would I cry
How deep is the ocean,
How high is the sky

And just now as I was telling him that we’d finished the last song, he once again insisted, “How much do I love you.”

Note my favorite version is the one by Joe Williams.

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Filed under Jazz, Married to a Moroccan, Parenthood

BLUES ette

Blues Ette

It’s that “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” when I am normally driving my family and neighbors crazy with Christmas music. While I’ve already got the tree up and probably exhausted my Christmas playlist, I have been more flexible this year and have found a little room for some non-festive tunes.

I just picked up trombonist Curtis Fuller’s BLUES ette, featuring Benny Golson, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Garrison and Al Harewood. And it’s highly recommended hardbop, if that’s your sort of thing. Also, if you are a Haruki Murakami fan like me, you’ll probably recall that the song “Five Spot at Dark” from this album was heavily featured in After Dark.

But if you would rather listen to Christmas music, the song I can’t get out of my head this year is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Evesung by Ella Fitzgerald.

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Filed under Essays, Jazz