Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mexico (and swine flu) on my mind

Flu Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

Let's hope the world community can curtail the swine flu emergency soon! My sympathies go out to all the victims, and I especially hope things improve in Mexico, where I have relatives. The flu is the subject of this week's episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama Shakes up GOP on torture debate

"And let me speak to th' yet unknowing world
How these things came about. So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts..."

~William Shakespeare, Hamlet

We observed the Bard's birthday this month -- he was baptized April 26, 1564 -- and we also observed President Obama do something in the style of Shakespearean monarchs (think Fortinbras in Hamlet) ready to examine the sins of their predecessors: He's looking for answers on the waterboarding issue. And maybe Obama's doing it in part for Shakespearean reasons: He's seeking to divide the Republican opposition.
Waterboarding, Fox News reports, works as follows:
(A) detainee is strapped to a gurney with his head lowered and a cloth placed on his face. Interrogators pour water onto the cloth, which cuts off air flow to the mouth and nostrils, tripping his gag reflex, causing panic and giving him the sensation that he is drowning.At that point the cloth would be removed, the gurney rotated upright and the detainee would be allowed to breathe.
No wonder the Obama Administration has taken steps against this -- the most recent one being last Thursday's release of Bush-era memos describing its use against detainees in the War on Terror.
In addition to rousing a nation's conscience, this move could split the opposition. Some Republicans could argue that while waterboarding is heinous, flying airplanes into buildings is even more despicable, and that winning the War on Terror justified whatever means were taken. On the other hand, GOP members already uneasy with sidestepping the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment may find the past administration even more unsavory now that we know just how cruel and unusual its punishments were.
"Let this same be presently performed," Horatio tells Fortinbras of disclosing former King Claudius' misrule in Hamlet, "Even whiles men's minds are wild, lest more mischance/On plots and errors happen." Not only has Obama stopped "more mischance" from the CIA, he could also start a debate among the GOP about how it prosecuted the War on Terror.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Walking out on Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

Maybe Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should have stuck to discussing the skiing conditions at the UN conference on racism in Geneva. Instead, he insulted Israel in a speech ... which prompted other attendees to walk out. Mephistopheles and Frank Faust discuss the speech -- and the reaction it caused -- in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NY Times too quick to predict end of anti-gay speech

Frank Rich, New York Times columnist, is a little too premature in declaring the end of anti-gay speech in this country.
In a recent op-ed, Rich disses the anti-gay YouTube video "Gathering Storm" and the movement behind it, saying:
What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.
Not so fast, Frank. The past year reveals that the struggle for gay rights still faces plenty of setbacks, and these setbacks should be noticeable for a guy drawing paychecks from the New York Times. Some examples:
  • In January 2008, country/pop star Taylor Swift released a song called "Picture to Burn" in which the singer envisions how she'll slam her ex. "So go and tell your friends/That I’m obsessive and crazy," Swift sings. "That’s fine/I’ll tell mine/You’re gay." Country music blog The 9513 reports that this last line has "been edited out of the radio version," but at least one station didn't get the message: I heard it on Country 102.5-FM yesterday afternoon.
  • In November 2008, as Barack Obama received a national mandate for change, people in California voted against a particular change: Gay marriage. Fifty-two percent of Golden State voters backed Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage. The Wall Street Journal said: "The passage of Prop 8 ... would be a major victory for religious conservatives seeking to ban gay marriage in other states, and a crippling setback for the gay rights movement nationwide." And Californians weren't the only ones to pass bans against gay marriage. So did people in two other states -- Arizona and Florida.
So while it's gutsy of Rich to predict the end of anti-gay talk in the US, the road ahead is still in some ways as hard as it was in the Harvey Milk days. It's still too easy for anti-gay lyrics to surface in songs, or for anti-gay marriage campaigns to win at the polls. May this change in the year ahead.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GOP parties like it's 1773!

Tea Party, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

On Tax Day 2009, Republicans across the United States "celebrated" by throwing "tea parties." Satan joins in the fun in a tax-deductible episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A tale of two hostage crises

It took five days for the US Navy to rescue Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who had captured his ship ... but Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit still languishes in Hamas captivity over 1,000 days after militants took him prisoner. Why did the Navy mission succeed, and Israeli efforts (so far) fail?
A lot of it has to do with geography. For all their technological prowess -- the New York Times described Phillips' captors as "armed with pistols and AK-47s" -- the pirates were undone by the fact they were operating on the open sea. "By the weekend," the Times reported, "the pirates had begun to run out of food, water and fuel. That apparently provided the opening officials were hoping for."
Shalit, by contrast, is at the mercy of not a group of four pirates, but a Hamas government entrenched in the Gaza Strip, which the BBC called "one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world." Locating him here seems difficult, so perhaps it's inevitable for Israel to try to rescue him through diplomatic means, although progress in talks seems slow. YNet News reported that a Hamas "official cited the election of a new Israeli government as the reason no breakthrough was expected in the coming months."
So what can we do? The Times involved its readers in the crisis off Somalia by soliciting solutions. For anyone following the Shalit saga, there are a number of ways to call for action. There is an online petition that urges Secretary of State Clinton to make the US' humanitarian aid pledge to Gaza
-- the petition says it's $300 million, the Times (UK, not NY) says it's $900 million -- contingent upon his release, which my friend Martin mentioned to me in an email. Shalit holds dual French and Israeli citizenship; perhaps pressure on Sarko -- and on Egypt and the Vatican, which have gotten involved in negotiations, as well as on the International Committee of the Red Cross, which Hamas has prevented from seeing Shalit -- could result in positive results. Let's hope that someday soon, Shalit will have the same freedom from captivity that Captain Phillips now enjoys.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Barack Obama World Tour 2009

Obama World Tour, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

Look out, Jules Verne. President Barack Obama has done Phileas Fogg one better by going "Around the World in One Week" instead of 80 days. During that time, he gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod, called for a nuclear-free era, and bolstered US status in the Middle East. Read more in "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Closer ties with Castro, Cuba?

Not long after my muse and I returned from Puerto Rico, a couple of other Americans have visited a Caribbean island. Only in this case, the visitors are coming from Congress, and the island ... well, let's just say this one's a little harder for your average American to get to than Puerto Rico.
Delegates from the Congressional Black Caucus met with ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro this week, following up a meeting of six caucus members with the country's current head, Fidel's brother Raul.
This was the highest-profile meeting between Fidel and American politicians in some time. The AP reported that "among the last U.S. officials to see (Fidel Castro)" were the governors of Nebraska and Louisiana, who met in 2005 with the Maximum Leader for trade talks.
Something tells me they won't be singing "Guantanamera" anytime soon in the Oval Office ... but President Obama seems more lenient toward the island nation than his predecessor ever did.
"Obama has ordered an assessment of U.S. policy toward the communist nation and some members of Congress are pushing to lift a ban on Americans visiting the island," the AP reported.
So will the NYT someday pitch trips to Cuba as eagerly as it does excursions to its Communist counterpart Vietnam? We'll see...