Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Year: 1998

Where for the Holidays?

And really, what was I thinking?  Traveling the weekend before Christmas?  And those poor huddled hungry masses I was just talking about with such concern? Fuck 'em- let 'em take Greyhound. Things don't start too well when M. rolls over and mumbles,"Mark, what time do we need to get up?  It's 6:22" Grogging to reality, "Umm, well, my plane leaves at 7:00". You can imagine what followed. And not surprisingly, I made it to the gate with time to spare (I treat any time between me getting there and the doors closing as time to spare, thank you).  Unfortunately, Delta had failed to consult me about today's travel schedule, and cancelled the flight.  Joy. So, knowing that my three day foul mood streak was still, well, streaking, I've decided to save the stress of multiple attempts throughout the morning to get on the plane, and just leave on an open flight later in the day. Brilliant strategist that I am, I failed to remember that about 15 minutes after the impeachment vote (that's how long it take to get from the floor of the House to National Airport Terminal C), the place will be filled with staffers getting the fuck out of Dodge.  And really, I don't want to be around these people anyway. Unless I could get a seat next to Bob Barr.  I'd really really really like that. ~ 7:31pm Sitting in Hartsfield Concourse E for the millionth time, and not being able to help feeling that it's gonna be the last time in a while.  It always seems as if you wait too long to appreciate what you have, even when you know you're going to lose it. The flight from DC to here was fine, thought it started a bit later in the day than I would have liked. I ended up sitting next to a kid who'd gotten a new Lego set, special for the trip. I was almost jealous.  Normally, I do everything I can to avoid children on planes, but this one seemed well behaved. That's a rarity, and even more so in first class. He kept to himself, and I split my time between replying to email and stealing glances at the progress of his Lego project. We both put our things up when the meal came, some chicken breast and couscous/vegetable platter. It wasn't immediately apparent that it was a chicken breast and vegetable platter, and I found no small amount of humor in noticing that the kid looked at me to figure out how to eat it. ~ On arrival, we had a gate change that put me within a 3 minute walk from the jetway to the curb where I usually meet my sister. The more you travel, the more tiny little things like that matter.  A. was at the curb in short order, and we headed off to grab a late lunch in Fayetteville. That left a couple of hours to take in the aftermath of the impeachment hearings. Somewhere over Lake Alatoona, Georgia, the President of the United States had been impeached. I'm glad I wasn't in front of a television when that happened. I've actually shifted in my opinion on the proper outcome, but it hasn't lessened the visceral anger I've felt over the past week. ~ Looking at it sitting on the runway, it seems a smallish plane to be flying over the Atlantic in. I miss the old 747-200's, with 10 seat wide rows and a second floor for the first class (which I'd only ever glimpsed via a 2am covert operation on a flight over to Frankfurt in 1985). But these are wide and comfortable, and my usual habit of placing a standing request for a full Tanqueray & tonic glass ensures a quick slip into sleep. I usually wake up as we approach the Irish coast, and always wish I'd thought to wear something less prone to wrinkling. It seems my father is already there, and is going to pick me up in a car. No small luxury, as that means I can skip the 32,000 foot change from slacks and a linen shirt to jeans and a pullover. Manchester to Nottingham is a beautiful drive, and I hope the day is worthy of a few snapshots. Then - having left home, and stopped by home along the way - I'll be home.

My America

A little over 10 years ago, in Frankfurt, West Germany, I boarded a Pan Am flight with my sister. It was bringing us to "the States", that place we'd stopped by a few times as my father moved us around the world. It was where my mother was from, and where we'd be living for the foreseeable future (three years?). I wasn't terribly thrilled about leaving Germany, but hey, I'd be living in the place where you could buy Now & Laters, T&C shirts, and see first run movies.   But as far as I could see at the time, those were really the only advantages. I mean, in the end, it's all the same, right? Just a little difference in language, store hours, and things you could buy. It was with these thoughts that I boarded that flight.   Andrea and I ended up sitting next to another "unaccompanied minor" on this 747 packed full of strange people leaving also leaving Frankfurt. She was fairly quiet, but we slowly moved into conversation as the night passed.   Her name was Marta, and she was on her way home, too. Turns out she had a much better conception of home than we did. She'd never left before (that was very odd in itself to me), but had been sent away for a couple of months during some "family troubles". She didn't say quite what, at first, and I didn't ask. Probably a divorce or something.   It was a long night, and we ended up talking a long time. As the conversation flowed, it became clear that while she missed her mother, she wasn't too excited about going home. The connecting flight at JFK that would take her home landed in Haiti. Her "family troubles" were that her grandfather, mayor of some town, had been pulled out of his bed in the middle of the night. A day and a few bullets later, her grandfather was dumped in front of her house. She said she thought she'd rather be living in "the States".   ~   In almost any other circumstance, I wouldn't have believed her. But there was a certain sincerity to her words that struck me at the time, and I was amazed. Maybe "the States" were a better place to be in some cases.   ~   Dawn started to come somewhere over Nova Scotia. People were waking up, repacking the bags that served as makeshift pillows over the night. It was a full flight, and the usual empty-row-as-bed reprise from the discomfort of coach was nowhere to be found. It's particularly difficult to be anything but crabby at that point on any transatlantic flight.   By the time our final descent started, everyone was up. Some tried to finish off a last chapter in a book, some stared out the windows at the coastline, and others drifted back into sleep. The plane angled sharply, and we would soon be on the ground.   Suddenly there was a chattering. Mostly in languages I'd never heard. Everyone was looking out of the right side of the plane, and Andrea moved back so I could see. Oh, it was the Statue of Liberty. Neat. Are we there yet? Oddly, folks stayed glued to the windows, and the stewardess had to get up and tell them to sit down and put their seat belts on again.   ~   The pilot turned the plane again, and leveled out. Shortly, we'd be on the ground, and I was going to have to figure out exactly how to get me and my sister to the Northwest flight to Minnesota. I wondered to myself about Marta, and made sure we exchanged addresses.   The scenery was suddenly rushing by, and passengers all went quiet, that way they do just before a plane lands. And with a screech of rubber, we were back in "the States."   At least, I'm assuming there was a screech of rubber. I couldn't hear it. See, the whole plane, almost all 420 passengers, was cheering. Cheering. And yelling, and crying, and damn near everyone was smiling the biggest smiles I'd ever seen. It didn't stop till long after we'd reached the gates. They were finally in "the States."   ~   I can't begin to explain how profound the experience of that flight was, or how it's become the base of my faith in America. It wasn't a capstone, but a beginning. Prior to that, American was simply the thing that my American family was always telling me I should be more like, and that dammit, I wasn't English. Or American was the part of me that kept me from understanding cricket, as my English family said.   American was loud, obnoxious, and usually what I distanced myself from. English was a bit easier to digest for most, and anyway, England was closer than "the States."   This is not to say that the flight was a permanent step into patriotism. Since then, I've railed against this country, worked for and with innumerable organizations many would call "subversive". America manifest is something that occasionally still turns my stomach.   But America the ideal, the one everyone was cheering for that day, the one they recognized before I did- that's mine. It's theirs, too. And goddammit it's yours if you want it.   Don't treat that as anything less than what that is.

At the last second

I'm making it a point of late to savor every bit of warm and sunny outside time I can get. I have been absolutely sissified when it comes to cold weather, and I'm dreading the coming winter. Anyway, today was f'ing beautiful. Taking advantage of the last hour or so of daylight, I set out for a ride. Since the trails are mostly abandoned at this time of day, I strapped on my CD player and stuck Coltrane in my ears. The music added energy, and I was soon pumping away. Not just through my legs, but in my mind. I've had more than a few comments about my seeming unhappiness lately, and I wanted to know why. I'm not sure that I got very far on that question, though. Part of the trail runs along a construction site, which is now a wide area filled with rocks and dirt. Some of it was packed dirt, so I decided to make use of those knobby tires I had.. It was a lot of fun, little hops off of rises, or scrambling up a pile of dirt. I didn't think about much of anything- just focused on the simple pleasure of it all. But I soon needed to move on, before I was caught out without a light. So as I headed farther along the trail, on a downhill stretch, I saw a packed dirt mound off to the side at the bottom of the hill. Absolutely perfect to launch a boy and his bike from. As I got closer, I decided to do it. I thought about how it felt when I was the only 8 year old who jumped the BMX ramps the teenagers did. Or about the time I pulled the guy from the flaming truck. Or the time I just grabbed her hand and went with it. All the times I just did it- when it felt just as exciting as this jump was going to feel. All these thoughts were in my head as I rushed up to the mound. And at the last second, I turned back to the trail. I'm still not sure what that says.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth . . .

Yesterday, I wasn't too happy with Clinton's prospects. Relying mostly on summaries and reports, I thought it looked like a lose-lose situation for Clinton. I took the perjury charge rather seriously. Appropriate subject matter or not- you don't lie under oath. But now I'm watching the video of the August Clinton deposition. If the House starts an impeachment inquiry over this, I'll have wished that gunman got a little farther. It's pretty clear that Clinton is acknowledging a very inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. He words it to stop just short of sexual intercourse. That much is clear. So why people insist on crucify him for using "legal" language in fending off closer attacks is beyond me. This man is still threatened with criminal legal action. If you're ever in court, "legalistic" terms are going to be pretty damn important to you. "Legalistic" terms are why people can get out of "read my lips- no new taxes" and the like. This city, and most of American business, *thrives* on this language. And now we've come to this. Wrecked the already precarious "balance" of the grand jury process. Overturned a century of presumptions about the conduct of those surrounding the President. Undermined the security of the office. And turned impeachment into just another (albeit bigger than usual) stick in the political weapons closet. So, like everyone else, here's my take on the matter. Clinton should come on television tonight. Make it clear that he is sincerely and honestly apologizing to the nation for allowing them to be mislead. And make it clear this is the last time he's going to apologize. Then he should point out that even more important, he has his wife and daughter to contend with for the rest of his life. And then he should look straight into the camera and tell Ken Starr to fuck off. And then he should get back to the business of being the President.

Starr Report

I'm so disgusted. Like everyone else, I read (most of) this Starr Report today. Umm, let's see, it has now been shown that Clinton was mackin' in the Oval Office, that he has incredibly poor judgement with respect to women, and that he isn't as smooth as he/everyone thinks he is. For this, no doubt, he deserves to be beaten soundly with a wet noodle. But maybe that'd end up in the report, too. Do we *really* want to tear our country apart for this? Do we?! Yes, it's reprehensible. Yes, it's something to look on the man with disgust about. But did it surprise anyone? Certainly not. So when folks (especially former supporters) are throwing out terms like resign and impeachment right and left, pointing towards Clinton's lack of moral character and wrongdoing, I'm even more disgusted with them than him. Why? Well, it all seemed okay when it wasn't up there in the limelight. Don't ask, don't tell. It's like rats from a sinking ship. Oh shit, I don't know _what_ I think. I'm just as disgusted with myself. Why? I don't *care* that he might have lied under oath- I still want him to remain as President. How fucked up is that? Somehow, in my head, I'd much rather see him remain in office, albeit weakened (tho' that's debateable), than wreck foundations of our government even more than they already have been. And don't give me that "but is this the kind of example we want to set for our kids?" shit. If that reasoning actually amounted to jack, Dan Burton wouldn't be in office, 95% of the televangelists would be flipping burgers, and Clinton never would have been elected. But Starr . . . . . that little bastard. Spend 4 fucking years, three jillion dollars, and all he can give us is a Harlequin romance novel!?! Give *me* 40 million and I promise you a better story than this.

Unpaid Advertising

Lifted straight from the pages of Infinite Jest (yeah, I'm a couple years late to the party but you should *really* read this book):
But there's this way he drums his fingers on the table. Not even like really drumming. More like in-way between drumming and like this scratching, picking, the way you see somebody picking at dead skin. And without any kind of rhythm, see, constant and never-stopping but with no kind of rhythm you could grab onto and follow and stand. Totally like whacked, insane. Like the sounds you can imagine a girl hears in her head right before she kills her whole family because somebody took the last bit of peanut butter or something. You know what I'm saying? The sound of a fucking mind coming apart. You know what I'm saying? So yeah, yes, OK, I sort of poked him with my fork. Sort of. I could see how maybe somebody could have thought I sort of stabbed him. I offered to get the fork out, though. Let's just say I'm ready to make amends at like anytime. For my part in it. I'm owning my part in it is what I'm saying. Can I ask am I going to get Restricted for this? Cause I have this Overnight tomorrow that Gene he approved already in the Overnight Log. If you want to look. But I'm not trying to get out of owning my part of the, like, occurrence. If my Higher Power who I choose to call God works through you saying I've got some kind of punishment due, I won't try to get out of a punishment. If I've got one due, I just wanted to ask. Did I mention that I'm grateful to be here?
I might have copied this from the author's pages, but I swear he listened in on conversations I've heard.


I watched the State of the Union tonight. I almost felt bad for Clinton. Having to walk into that room knowing they were all wondering when they'd be able to feed off of your dead political carcass. Now for a quick rundown (to be cleaned up later, when I don't have so much work looming in front of me)-

"Let's save Social Security"- Whatever. Let's make sure we have enough money to pay for current obligations and let me the hell out. There are all sorts of exceptions to mandatory SS participation (state employees, for example). Let's give this option to the whole country. I'd still be happy to pay a point or two to "save" the idgits who, in spite of this opportunity, still don't figure it out by 65. I'm just not happy to pay 7 points.

"Raise minimum wage" - don't you just love the way an entire half of the room stayed silent on that one? Or are they busy trying to come up with new "dire consequences" like those that never materialized last time?

"More education benefits" Excuse me, Mr. President, how can you stand up there and talk about his when you've reduced the net aid available to college students?

"100,000 new teachers!" Kinda like 100K more cops but without the guns? Let's concentrate on getting *good* teachers.

"End social promotion". Hell yeah. The summer I taught, I had a fifth grader named Edward who couldn't write his own fucking name. I cried that night.

"Let's raise cigarette prices to reduce teen smoking" Please. I don't care what kind of taxes you put on cigarettes, just don't pretend like it'll reduce smoking. Let these idgits kill themselves, and refuse medicare/aid payments for the treatment. They knew the risks when they started, and if they honestly didn't, they're probably not going to survive for long anyway.

"Vote on the nominations for judges" Thank you. Republicans clamor and complain about a poor and backed up judicial system. Well no shit- if there aren't any judges, no cases get heard. Or do ya'll want to privitize that, too?

The solider from Bosnia got the longest applause out of anyone (including the President). That's how it should be.

Endorsing the nuclear testing comprehensive ban. Are we *still* waiting on this?

"Pay the UN debt" Uh, hello? It's not like the UN could ever force the US to take any action. Why must we antagonize over a few hundred million dollars? (I know, Jesse Helms, but I keep hoping he takes up smoking soon).

"Let's fund the next generation of the Internet" Anyone else notice that absolutely no one in the room had any idea about what he was talking about?

"Let's pay for the new space station"- While I'm a bit of a realist, I like some wonderment every once in a while. I hope this works out.

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