Sunday, December 14, 2008

If the Shoe Flits, Bear It

George W. Bush, who dodged the draft in his youth by copping an appointment to the Texas Air National Guard and who dodged fulfilling his obligations to that very same branch of our armed services, successfully dodged not one, but two, shoes thrown at him during a press conference with Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today on his latest - and likely last - unannounced trip to Baghdad. President Bush may not be an artful dodger, but he's a damn good one in anybody's estimation.

Now, I, for one, am glad that Bush was not struck by the flying footwear. And, honestly, I would never endorse or approve of an attack on his person. Although I may want to see the guy charged with violations of national or international laws, and, if found guilty thereof, sent to prison, I do not want to see him hurt. Mr. Bush's actions as president of the United States these past eight years have only served to consolidate my belief that violence in the pursuit of political objectives is, more often than not, ineffective and usually morally repugnant.

There was, though, something about the incident in Baghdad today that so aptly captures the obtuseness of our 43rd president that it bears noting.

Bush's attacker, an Iraqi journalist named Muntader al-Zaidi, is reported to have shouted as he threw the first shoe, “this is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” and to have shouted, "this is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” as he threw the second.

Bush acquitted himself with poise during and immediately following the attack. Having ducked the first shoe, he did not cower, but rose from behind the podium, I assume, to address his assailant, seeming more interested in conversation than in his personal safety. When the shoes stopped flying he joked about the situation, which, I believe, was an appropriate way to try to defuse the tension in the room and to get on with the briefing.

But what was, sad to say, unsurprising was the president's response to a reporter who later asked him about the incident. Perhaps Bush did not have the opportunity to have Mr. al-Zaidi's words translated from the Arabic, but he should, nonetheless, have had a hunch as to what the ruckus was all about. Apparently that was not the case. Here were his speculations concerning his attacker's motives.
It's one way to gain attention. It's like going to a political rally and having people yell at you ... It's a way for people to draw attention. I don't know what this guy's cause is.
In other words, for George Bush having shoes thrown at you by an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad is not unlike enduring political protests in this country in that such things are not motivated by a substantive cause - that is to say ideas and concerns that merit consideration - but, instead, by a misguided need for attention.

In the Bush universe opponents are either evil doers or wayward political adolescents, people who haven't yet seen the light. Villains are to be crushed and misbehaving children are to be ignored.

The telling thing about Bush's take on the attack on him today is that it so acutely reflects his signature lack of intellectual curiosity. Not only does he inhabit an institutional bubble that protects him from threatening ideas in newspapers, for example, he also lives in a personal bubble that blinds him to the motivations and concerns of people with whom he does not agree.

Hundreds of thousands of war dead and wounded - not to mention millions of displaced Iraqis - and he still can't fathom why anyone should hold a grudge. It's almost enough to make me want to throw a shoe at him myself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Terrorcotta Warriors, While Supplies Last!

Well, terracotta fever has struck Atlanta, what with the opening of The First Emperor exhibit at the High Museum just a couple of days ago.

As a result, we are pleased to be able to offer this limited edition, more-than-life-size set of our very own Bush administration terracotta figurines - the terrorcotta warriors, as we like to call them.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you to purchase the complete set of 6, including Alberto (Torture Boy) Gonzales, Condoleezza (Condi) Rice, George W. (Dubyah) Bush, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Donald (Rummy) Rumsfeld, and, of course, the Emperor himself, Richard (Dick) Cheney.

Act now and you will receive, as a bonus, a kneeling Michael ("Heck of a Job, Brownie") Brown statuette - a favorite with the kids and among the New Orleans, Louisiana diaspora community.

This collection makes for a wonderful holiday gift and will be a particularly welcome fixture at the celebrations accompanying the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January. It's the kind of personal treasure that you can enjoy yourself and ultimately pass on to your children, or that you can - as with the original terracotta army of the Qin dynasty - bury in some undisclosed location with the hope that no one will see hide nor hair them for 2,000 years. The choice is up to you.

Order on-line at our secure website. Keep in mind, these guys are history!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Victory Lap for the Obama Obicycle

Thanks to my friend and fellow bicycle advocate, Sara Fuchs, she I and the Obama Obicycle were strategically positioned at the election night party at Manuel's Tavern. Among the revelers and news hounds snapping our picture was Jessica McGowan of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who got a photo of me with the bike included in this Atlanta Reacts Tuesday photo-stream (number 23, last time I checked).

Although work for the campaign is thankfully done, I decided to outfit the Obicycle with a last celebratory sign and do a victory lap or two around intown Atlanta. It will be a fitting tribute to the Obicycle before it's retired at the end of the week.

Congratulations to us all for being part of this historic victory!

Also, very special congratulations go out to my niece Hilary and her husband Javier who welcomed their new daughter, Luna Eden Fernandez, into this world last night at the exact moment polls were closing on the East Coast, making her, perhaps, this nation's first Obama Obaby.

Yes we did!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama Obicycle to the Obarricades

We should distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes. - Henry David Thoreau

I guess I'm just going to have to disagree with Henry David on this one. Tomorrow is election day and if the Obama Obicycle stays dressed up as a partisan campaign counter-puncher then any area within 150 feet of a polling place would become a no-fly zone, so to speak.

So it's back to fair-and-balanced, stealth operating mode for me. That way I can let people know that there is a non-partisan hot line number for them to call (1-866-687-8683) and a website to visit (, if they encounter any resistance while trying to cast their ballots. These resources are offered gratis, thanks to the hard work of folks at the Election Protection coalition. (A big thank-you goes out to Nettie Bernard for putting me on to this wonderful organization!)

Your polling place opening late or closing early? Then give 1-866-OUR-VOTE (same as the number above) a call. Faulty equipment or voting machines there? Do likewise. Challenged because of lack of photo ID or mix-up on the registration rolls? They can help. If the circumstances warrant, and if one is available, an election protection volunteer will be dispatched to your precinct to try to resolve the problem.

One thing to keep in mind according to the experts at Election Protection,
Provisional ballots are a LAST resort because they will only be counted if the county clerk can verify your registration status before the election is certified.
So it is a priority is to find a way to vote coventionally or by paper ballot, if at all possible.

We all have come this far with registration and campaigning. Now it's time to make sure that our precious votes - and those of our our friends and neighbors - are counted.

Please, share this information with anyone who may need a hand tomorrow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama Obicycle a Witness for Hope in Georgia

It's been particularly fun tooling around town on the Obama Obicycle in the run-up to Tuesday's election. The excitement here is truly palpable, and, as recent riding companions Joy Rousso and Chester Perry can attest, you can't travel far with the Obicycle without being greeted by the honking of a friendly car horn or a proudly raised arm sporting a big upturned thumb. Chants of "Oh-Bah-Mah" are not uncommon, as well.

So what does all this mean for the Peach State? Is Georgia likely to cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama?

I've been asked this question a number of times while out on my bike - both in its deceptively-bipartisan, under-the-radar, register-to-vote costume and in unabashed, taking-the gloves-off, fully-partisan campaign regalia.

I always answer frankly. "No, it's a long-shot," I say, trying to suppress my heartfelt disdain for the Electoral College system.

[People who get upset about how votes for president are counted should keep in mind that, in considering each and every piece of legislation that comes before the U. S. Senate, the voices of the people of Wyoming - population 522,830 (2007 estimate) - weigh in on a par with those of the people of California - population 36,553,215. We are cursed with this echo of the Electoral College every day of the year.]

But I also remind them that a strong turnout for Obama in this state puts Democratic Senate candidate Jim Martin in striking distance of upsetting Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, a George W. Bush yes-man, if there ever was one. This is an outcome that no one considered even a remote possibility as recently as two months ago.

More importantly - the Electoral College be damned - the votes for Obama will count, if he wins the election, however Georgia commits itself in the official constitutional tally. What I mean by this is that the Georgians who cast their ballots for Obama will feel as if they have genuinely contributed to his election and, as a result, will see themselves - some for the very first time and others for the first time in years - to be part of an revitalized progressive political process in this state and in our nation.

This is the hope that an Obama victory brings to traditionally-red states, such as Georgia. This is why I believe that a Georgia vote for an Obama victory will count, no matter what. This is a change that I can believe in, because it's happening right in front of me, right now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama Obabies

With thoughts of my grandnephew Isaac's first birthday in mind - and the feelings of hope that that has stirred in me for the upcoming election - I met with my long-time friend Julie Carroll today to celebrate her birthday with a lunch at Doc Chey's on N. Highland Avenue. Julie, you may be able to tell from the photo, is pregnant and is due January 23rd.

(I hinted at the possibility that she might deliver an inauguration day baby and asked whether "Barack" was a possible baby name. Julie reminded me that "Nora" and "Charlotte" - both in contention - might be more suitable for a girl.)

As it turns out, my niece Hilary is also expecting. She's due in early November, as though we needed any more excitement then!

So, not surprisingly, birthdays - past, present and future - are very much a theme this week. Thursday will be Issac's, his first. Monday was Julie's fortieth - believe it or not, since she still looks like a kid. And today is the fiftieth birthday of my friend and neighbor, Dennis Blanton, whose wife Ingrid has devoted so much of her time these past few months to working for the Obama campaign and organizing her own cadre of volunteers, that I tease Dennis about having become an Obama widower.

But what could be more fitting now than the celebration of birthdays? They offer each of us an opportunity - one day a year - to grasp the past in one hand and the future in the other, pause, reflect, take in a deep breath, make a wish, and, of course, blow out the candles.

Happy birthday, everyone, whenever you were - or will be - born. Here's wishing for the best on November 4th for all us Obama babies!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama Obicycle Version 2.0

Thanks to the kindness of a stranger - in this case yesterday's generous drive-by donation of Shepard Fairey Obama "Hope" stickers - the Obama Obicycle has been upgraded.

Version 2.0 is ready for a test drive this lovely Indian-summer afternoon. It's hard to imagine that admiring Obicycle fans could be more enthusiastic, but we shall see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tales of Obama Obicycle Paparazzi and More

Riding around town on the Obama Obicycle continues to be a treat - hoots, hollers and words of appreciation at every turn. Here are a couple of my latest noteworthy encounters.

Yesterday as I was on the Obicycle returning to my condominium complex I noticed a red Honda Civic in my rear-view mirror turning into the driveway behind me. My complex is small enough - only 19 units - that I recognize all the resident vehicles at a glance. This one wasn't familiar, so I assumed that it was someone coming to pay a visit to one of my neighbors.

Oddly enough, the car caught up with me and kept pace, traveling right by my side. Yikes! This was not something a typical visitor would do. Suspicious, I decided not to turn into my parking space, and, instead, came to a sudden stop.

The red Civic stopped too, and, before I could register my complaint, the woman on the passenger side of the car rolled down her window and asked, "is it okay if we take your picture?" "You bet," I replied, suppressing my inclination to give her and her companion a piece of my mind, since I had just come within a second of ramming them broadside!

My second Obicycle tale of the weekend has to do with an incident that occurred while I was returning from the celebration of the first birthday of my grandnephew, Isaac Merlin.

As with many of you, I have allowed myself to become hopeful these last few days - hopeful that we soon will be living once again in a country led by men and women of intelligence and good will, who will work to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of other people with whom we share this glorious, but all-too fragile, planet. Isaac's birthday celebration reminded me of how important that hope had become for me.

On my way home on 8th Street, on the Obicycle, of course, a man - whose name I later learned was Jeff - called out to me from his Prius waiting at a traffic light behind me and asked, "Where are you going? I have some Obama stickers that I'd like to give you." I told him that I was heading in the general direction of Emory, not having a clue what he had in mind for me to do. "I'll pull in front of you. Follow me," he directed.

With that I tailed Jeff - pedaling as fast as I could - to his house off of Charles Allen Drive. When I caught up with him in his driveway he fetched a backpack and retrieved a handful of Obama stickers he had printed out with designs by Shepard Fairey. Some had the retro "Rock the Vote" logo. Others had the - now iconic - Barack Obama "Hope" portrait. Jeff had liked the signs I had made for my bike and, as a result, thought that I was just the person who could make good use of the stickers he had printed.

These offers of hope for our future from Jeff - on the occasion of Isaac's birthday - could not have been more appropriate.

More than eight years after this post first ran, the folks at Artsy asked if I would include a link to their Shepard Fairey page. I'm happy to oblige.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Somebody Say, "Amen-dments"!

Having spent all of two hours reviewing the text of the proposed amendments to the constitution of the state of Georgia that appear on the 2008 general election ballot and, having considered a variety (i.e. 2) outside opinions on these matters, I offer this informal voter guide. It may not be much, but it is better than having to figure out how to vote if you enter the polling booth without a clue.

Besides, I have come up with catchy names for the propositions, which counts for something, I hope.

Amendment 1 - The Ransoming Our Forests Amendment
This amendment provides tax incentives for people to not destroy the tracts of forest land - 200 acres or more - that they own, at least not for the next 15 years. Conservationists appear to be uniformly in favor of this measure. The Urban Independents voter guide, admitting that this one is a hard call, suggests a "no" vote, saying,
if our priority is to permanently preserve land we should vote directly to raise taxes or sell bonds to do so.
I agree in theory, but the approach to the problem that they suggest may not be enacted soon enough to preserve the forest land under threat.
  • I am going to vote "yes" on Amendment 1.
Amendment 2 - The "How Badly Do You Want the BeltLine?" Amendment
From the same kind of minds that brought you collateralized debt obligations, comes the idea of the TAD, the tax allocation district, a creative way to finance projects such as the BeltLine, which will require billions of dollars to develop over a period of 20 years or more, but is, perhaps, one of the few remaining opportunities to refashion the city of Atlanta as a vibrant urban community.

The question before us is not the legitimacy of TADs per se, but whether school boards should be allowed to participate in them. There are those who believe that the funding of schools is sacrosanct, outside the rough and tumble give and take of "ordinary" politics. I guess I disagree. If school boards decide that it is in their interest to support such projects as the BeltLine, then I won't stand in their way.
  • Count me in the "yes" column for Amendment 2.
Amendment 3 - The Mini-Me Government Replacement Amendment
OK, so maybe the mini-me reference from the Austin Powers movies is a little obscure, but how else to characterize this proposal that allows for the effective transfer of traditional government powers - taxation, leaving the government to do the tax collection, no less - to non-government entities, whomever they might be?

The idea of extending the prerogatives of elected governments to so-called infrastructure development districts seems misguided. I had considered calling this one the "Foxes in Charge of the Hen House" amendment, but thought that would come off as too provocative. Maybe not.
  • Amendment 3 is a big "no" for me.
Erosion of Our Tax Base Initiatives
Aside from the statewide amendments, there are the usual local homestead tax exemption proposals on the various city and county ballots. I don't investigate these much, since they, in my mind, would be more accurately described as property tax reduction initiatives. They are seldom based on the need of the designated beneficiaries and never prescribe means by which lost tax revenues could be replaced.
  • Just say "no" to homestead exemptions, as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Republicans and Tigers and Pundits, Oh My!

Chris Rock is not only the funniest man alive, he is also probably the most astute social commentator around. To listen to him do his routine is not only to be entertained, but to be enlightened about the world as it truly is.

During one performance not long after the October 2003 incident at The Mirage in Las Vegas in which Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy was attacked by a circus tiger, Rock, contradicting the conventional wisdom that such an attack was entirely unexpected, said the following,
That tiger ain't go crazy; that tiger went tiger! You know when he was really crazy? When he was riding around on a unicycle with a Hitler helmet on!
(The set-up for these lines begins at about 1:20 into this absolutely not-safe-for-work YouTube video.)

Rock lets us know that you don't have to be a big game hunter to realize that you could get into a whole lot of trouble when you go messing around with a large, fanged, predatory mammal in an enclosed space.

On a related note, it seems that lately a handful of old-line Republican stalwarts are grumbling about the GOP. Some even say that they will not be able to bring themselves to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket in the November election. The list includes, among others, George Will, Christopher Buckley and New York Times columnist David Brooks. They are "shocked, I tell you, shocked" that the party of their youth has been hijacked by know-nothing anti-intellectuals.

Brooks is a Republican apologist whom I hold in particularly low regard, not for his opinions per se, but for the fact that he presents them with little intellectual honesty. Take this column last Saturday decrying the regrettable disdain that the GOP now directs toward "the idea of the cultivated mind."

If Brooks is to believed, the origin of this shift in Republican thinking is not grounded fundamentally in real people adopting right-wing beliefs and points-of-view. No, not at all. This change is due to a political miscalculation gone awry:
But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads. [emphasis added]
So what of the southern strategy of the 1968 Nixon campaign, which tapped into racial animosity inflamed by court-ordered school busing, or of the property-tax revolt thrust onto the national scene by California's Proposition 13 in 1978, or of Ronald Reagan's second-coming as an unrelenting anti-government crusader, or of the political rise of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, or of the assault on science and reason epitomized by the "evolution wars" instigated by the Institute for Creation Research, or of the attacks on the civil liberties of gay and lesbian citizens of this country that masqueraded - and continues to masquerade - as a promotion of "family values"?

What of these?

David Brooks would have us believe that these are side-effects, unintended, secondary consequences that have accompanied the shift of opinion orchestrated by "Republican political tacticians" as their line of attack against "coastal pointy-heads".

Give me a break!

Brooks (and Will and Buckley) may long for the golden age of Rockefeller, county-club Republicanism, but they can't deny the reality that they, along with the rest of us, have been living in the days of the Joe-Six-Pack GOP for the last two decades or more. Sarah Palin, far from being a surprise to them, should have been anticipated as the inevitable result of a philosophy adopted and embraced by the very party with which they aligned themselves years ago and which they continued to support until very recently.

Or as Chris Rock might say,
the Republican Party ain't gone crazy; that party went Republican! You know when it was really crazy? When it was riding around in a golf cart with a pork-pie hat on!
Right on, Chris!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Being on the Alert Alert

This post presents an "October surprise" scenario, which, in itself, may be improbable, but serves to illustrate a way that the current administration might abuse its power in a last minute effort to influence the outcome of the November presidential election.

This mid-October afternoon is sunny, mild and breezy, the kind of weather Atlantans pray for all summer long. Barack Obama is up in the national polls and, more to the point, is developing a significant lead in the electoral college nose count. The McCain-Palin character assassination machine has been revving its engine, but so far has succeeded only in further damaging the public's opinion of the Republican candidates, themselves.

It would seem that we Obama-backing Democrats would at last be able breathe a sigh of relief, or, at least, be able to let down our guard a bit. Sadly, that is not the case. Although the McCain campaign team may have shot its political wad, the man in charge at the White House - Dick Cheney, that is - has a couple of tricks left up his sleeve, and, if his track record is any indication, he won't hesitate to use them.

The Cheney-Bush administration has played fast and loose with the law - both domestic and international - these past 8 years. They have brazenly defied the Constitution (for example, with presidential signing statements) when it suits them, but they have, at times, preferred to exploit the cloaks of executive privilege and of national security to provide them with the political cover and, more importantly, the get-away time that they need to accomplish their goals. Thus they cooked the intelligence community books with regard to Saddam Hussein and his alleged possession of nuclear and chemical arms, knowing full well that by the time their claims about WMD were revealed to be false, the invasion of Iraq would be a done deal.

Dick Cheney is not the sort of man to sit on his hands with the election of Barack Obama looming. If he can do anything within the limits of the law (at least, his interpretation of the law), anything that provides him with sufficient plausible deniability to dodge accusations of wrong-doing in the short run, he will act to attempt to frustrate a Democratic victory. The question remains is how he might manipulate circumstances to such an end.

Here is one scenario among many possible ones.

On October 8th Judge Ricardo Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington ordered the release of 17 Uighur detainees, Chinese nationals who had been taken into custody by U.S. forces during its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and held in detention at Guantánamo Bay since then. From all appearances, they have not violated any U.S. laws or could they be construed in any demonstrable way to be combatants against this country. Meanwhile Judge Urbina's order has been stayed by an appeals panel, and the timing of a resolution of the question of the release of these prisoners remains in question.

What happens if the panel's stay is rescinded by late October and the decision to proceed with the release of the prisoners is upheld by a higher court? What happens. then, if the administration refuses to comply with the orders of this court by claiming, that the ruling undermines the security interests of the United States and will lead to the release of all prisoners from Guantánamo? What happens, next, when outraged citizens take to the streets of Washington, D.C. to protest these egregious violations by the administration of the Constitutional protections of individual liberty and the established balance of power between the three branches of government?

What happens is this. The Department of Homeland security, accountable to no one outside the executive branch, with the active encouragement of the Vice President of the United States, makes a determination that, because of civil unrest in the nation's capital, and because of the threat posed by the impending release from Gitmo of a large number of declared enemies of this country, and because of other reliable intelligence reports, the national threat level be raised from yellow to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack.

What happens is this. John McCain, who has by now become an old hand at suspending his campaign, does just that so that he can rush back to Washington and assume the role of acting anti-terrorism commander-in-chief, hoping, of course, for better results than his previous auditions as acting market meltdown bailout deal closer and acting Hurricane Gustav emergency response manager during the Republican nominating convention.

There's no telling whether creating such an atmosphere of fear, which would leverage off the slander of Obama "palling around with terrorists" that Sarah Palin has been spreading this past week, will play to the GOP advantage, but the effectiveness of this kind of maneuver is consistent with the widely held belief that, once people enter the voting booth, fear trumps reason. McCain's military service experience will once again be marched front and center in a last-ditch attempt to resuscitate his dying presidential bid, and some undecided voters will find that reassuring enough.

This kind of corruption of our national security and intelligence apparatus exploited by this administration to support the invasion of Iraq might not prove to be a winning tactic for Cheney and his neocon crew in their attempts to influence the general election, but it may be the only card that they have left to play come the end of October. It seems that as election day approaches we should genuinely be on alert - alert that is to the potential abuse of the national threat level alert system.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama Obicycle (Art) Therapy

If you are like me - which I sincerely hope is not the case - you struggle at times to continue to hold your fellow citizens in even modest regard. Being subjected to daily sound bites from the refrigerator-magnet word salad that masquerades as a Sarah Palin campaign speech makes that struggle even harder.

But take heart, dear friends! Hope is at hand for sufferers of TCCS (Terminally Cynical Curmudgeon Syndrome), like me. The Obama Obicycle has now been demonstrated, in limited clinical trials, to drastically reduce the symptoms of TCCS. It is rumored that a full-fledged cure will be announced the first week in November.

Honestly, it continues to be throughly therapeutic for me to bike around Atlanta with my Obama bike-trailer rig. The first bicycle trip of the day took me to the High Museum of Art to attend a member preview of The Louvre and the Masterpiece, which opens Sunday and runs through September of next year. (The photo accompanying this post is a subtly altered version of Johannes Vermeer's The Astronomer which, in my mind, is the highpoint of the exhibition.)

As has become customary with the Obicycle, I was serenaded by the tooting of horns and exhorted with the waving of hands as I pedaled my way to the museum in Midtown. When I arrived there I intentionally made a circuit of the wonderful plaza created with the completion of the Renzo Piano addition to the High a few years ago, before moving on to find a less conspicuous place to lock up. My showy entrance on the scene had the effect of attracting a bit of attention, so, as I walked up to the Weiland Pavilion to tender my admission ticket, a number people - visitors and staff - approached me to congratulate me on the Obicycle, to share their hopes and concerns about the election, and to request photo opportunities with me and the bike.

As I had promised the admiring fans, after I finished viewing the exhibit, I fetched the Obicycle and returned the plaza to be photographed. Since I needed to retrieve my messenger bag from the check counter, I left the Obicycle unattended for a few minutes while I ran inside. (I imagine that its conspicuousness makes it relatively theft-proof, at least for short periods of time, although I do worry about McCain-Palin saboteurs.) When I returned, much to my surprise, a small group of tourists had gathered to take turns photographing each other posing with the Obicycle.

What a kick I got out of that display! Maybe my days of TCCS suffering are behind me, after all.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cheering Throngs Greet Maiden Cruise of Obama Obicycle

The newly christened Obama Obicycle made its inaugural voyage yesterday with Captain Marc Merlin at the helm and first mate - and photographer - Hillary Felker at his side. They came up to speed as they exited the tranquil waters of Lake Claire harbor Tuesday morning and carefully steered their way through the narrow, but not treacherous, straits of the City of Decatur, with the Dekalb Farmers Market as their intended destination and first scheduled port of call.

The weather was near perfect and there was nary a suburban frat boy pirate to be seen, as they navigated the waterways of E. Ponce de Leon Avenue, basking in the toots of horns from admiring fellow seafarers passing by.

Nautical metaphors aside, it was, in fact, difficult to pedal more than a block or two on the Obama Obicycle without being greeted with a shout-out of approval or a hearty thumbs up. People in Atlanta are really pumped about the prospect of an Obama victory in the upcoming election and they are happy to share their enthusiasm.

On our return home from the market, Hillary and I paid a call at the Dekalb Obama office - 2752 E. Ponce de Leon Avenue - and rousted the workers and volunteers there to come out and take a look at our bicycle convoy. Needless to say, they were impressed, although it does remain to be seen whether the photo they took of us will find its way to the national campaign website. We can only hope.

Since this morning I have taken the Obama Obicycle out on a number of trips, and I can honestly report that I receive enthusiastic shows of support wherever I go. This kind of encouragement tells me that maybe - just maybe - we will soon have national leaders and national policies that we can be proud of once again. That is, of course, only if we remain focused these last few weeks of the campaign and only if we remain determined to make sure that our votes - and those of our friends and families - are both cast and counted.

Jimmy Olmert? Ehud Carter?

Apropos the once-again moribund Middle East peace process - if one can in fact call this kind of endless churning of diplomatic activity a process - the New York Times chimed in with this editorial on Saturday, Mr. Olmert's Belated Truth's. It seems that the Times is grudgingly appreciative of the fact that the exiting Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had screwed up the courage to speak out about the reality behind his nation's conflict with the Palestinian people and to outline how it could be resolved.

Ignoring for the moment that the Times had dragged their feet for decades in coming to the very same conclusions that Mr. Olmert did, it was gratifying to see that the editors and the P. M. were finally on the same geopolitical page in recognizing the following:
  • that an Israeli peace with the Palestinians requires the full withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlements from all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,
  • that the return of the Golan Heights must be on the table as part of peace negotiations with Syria,
  • and that it would be a foolhardy adventure - megalomania, according to Olmert - for Israeli to undertake unilateral military action to thwart Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
As encouraging as it is that Olmert has finally come to see the light, or more accurately, come to speak these inconvenient truths, in the waning days of his scandal-plagued administration, it should be noted that both he and the New York Times have reluctantly become proponents of the idea that peace in the region, and, ultimately, Israel's security, can only be achieved by the return of the West Bank - with small adjustments of territory excepted - to Palestinian control.

One international figure, it turns out, has been championing just this position for years, and, in spite of winning a Nobel Peace Prize, has met with much disdain from the American public and not infrequent accusations of antisemitism from the American Jewish community. That man, of course, is former president, Jimmy Carter.

In his 2006 book, "Peace Not Apartheid" Carter reviews the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict focusing his attention specifically on the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. He and, interestingly enough, the Labor leadership of Israel at the time of the hostilities, concluded that the occupation of Palestinian lands would inevitably interfere with Israel's aspirations to remain a Jewish state, one living at peace with its neighbors within secure borders. Carter's stance was a principled one, rooted in the system of international law that had come to maturity with the establishment of the United Nations following the devastation of the Second World War. His stance was also both a practical and a personally compassionate one, as well.

Sadly, the influx of North African Jews and refugees from the Soviet Union, helped transform the Israeli political landscape in the 1970s and brought to power a right-wing government that harbored ambitions for a "Greater Israel", a notion derived from Biblically-based claims that were never part of the secular, internationalist vision of the Labor Party founders of the Israeli state. Thus work was frustrated on further exchanges of land-for-peace, like the one between Egypt and Israel, which Carter had helped to secure with the Camp David accords and which he saw as model for similar agreements between Israel and other parties to the conflict.

Well, at long last, it appears that Carter's even-handed approach to resolving disputes in the region, often characterized unfairly as "pro-Palestinian" and irrationally as "antisemitic" by those who brook no criticism of Israeli policies, is finally being widely adopted. (Oddly enough, Carter's fringe point-of-view - fringe relative to that of his fellow Americans, that is - has long been considered centrist in western European political circles and well within the bounds of reasonable discourse within Israel itself.)

Carter has, to say the least, suffered the slings and arrows which come with staking out a principled position and defending it over a long period of time, in the face of withering and unwarranted personal attacks. He must be gratified finally to see an Israeli prime minister, even a departing one, affirming his own long-held prescription for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

I, for one, I am grateful that Carter has stuck to his guns and has never stopped reminding us, as he did while he was president, that solutions to conflict must always be founded on a respect for human rights and that the rule of international law must everywhere be fostered and observed.

Given all that hangs in the balance in the Middle East and given the havoc wrought by an American administration which sees respect for human rights as discretionary and which regards international law often as no more than an impediment to their freedom to act unilaterally, it is now more important than ever to be reminded of Jimmy Carter's not-at-all belated truths.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Changing Gears - My Obama Obicycle

Well, today was the deadline in Georgia to register to vote for the November election, so, according to plan, I lifted my cloak of (ostensible) bipartisan invisibility and switched my bike trailer from its alter-ego guise as an unassuming, mild-mannered "register-to-vote-here" mobile voter registration station to its bold, battle-ready incarnation as a partisan Democrat campaign vehicle - one that I am calling the "Obama Obicycle".

A five-minute test drive around my neighborhood was greeted mostly with honking horns and howls of approval. How sweet it is!

Nevertheless, a car-full of young men, from the suburbs I imagine, one flaunting a McCain-Palin t-shirt, apparently on their way to Little Five Points to sample the pleasures of the degenerate, left-leaning popular culture of which their candidates most certainly disapprove, called out, accusing me of consorting with terrorists, encouraged by the latest Sarah Palin initiated "gutter politics" attack.

What to say? "You guys could have been friendly (I had waved to them), or you could have been assholes. You decided to be assholes, just like your know-nothing attack-dog vice-presidential candidate. Do you have any idea what part of town you are in? Welcome to Atlanta and good luck!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'll Have What She's Having - Dispatches from the Voter Registration Front

After being inspired several weeks ago by my friend Joy Rousso to put our after-work bicycle rides to good purpose by using them as an opportunity to register voters, I decided to add a bold "Register to Vote Here" sign to my B.O.B. Yak trailer (above). Within a few days I resolved to keep the trailer attached to my bike all the time, not just when I was running errands that required it. Like a workplace photo ID dangling from a lanyard or a t-shirt proclaiming support for some political cause or other, it's easy to forget that such things that one "wears" habitually can attract the attention of people passing by.

I happened to be having lunch on the patio of my favorite local coffee shop (and wine bar) Java Vino the other day where I had left my bike-trailer combo sitting in the parking lot, a few feet away from the sidewalk that borders N. Highland Avenue. While I was preoccupied on my laptop, responding to a backlog of email, an older woman walked up to the patio, approached a young woman sitting near me - whom I took to be a new or infrequent customer, since I didn't know her - and struck up a brief conversation, one that I did not overhear. She then took a seat at a table near the door, without ever entering the shop. I assumed that she was waiting for a friend to arrive and join her for coffee or a bite to eat.

Java Vino has a menu of sandwiches, salads and pastries, but, like most coffee shops, doesn't offer table service. The wait-staff does occasionally make the rounds, busing tables and bringing out orders placed at the counter that take time to prepare. About 10-minutes after the older woman arrived, Dianna, a long-time Java Vino barista, was clearing dishes left on out on the patio, and, having noticed that the woman had been sitting for a while but had not yet ordered, asked her, "Is there something I can get for you? Coffee? Something to eat?"

"No thank you," the older woman responded, "I'm just waiting to register to vote."

Without missing a beat, Dianna began to send her my way, while I, having picked up on what was being discussed, was already dashing to my trailer to retrieve a clipboard, a pen and a blank registration form.

It seems that the older woman - who had just moved to Atlanta from Dallas - had noticed the sign on my trailer as she was walking down the street and had approached the young woman, the one whom I didn't recognize, to ask how she could go about registering to vote. Not knowing me or of my voter registration efforts, they conferred and came to the conclusion that voter registration must be a service offered by the coffee shop to its customers.

I, of course, had forgotten how an unattended bike and trailer with a "Register to Vote Here" sign on it, could be confusing people passing by a retail establishment.

Fortunately for me the older woman was a patient person, one committed to become a registered voter in her new hometown.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Turning the Page - Dispatches from the Voter Registration Front

A middle-aged woman approached me yesterday around a quarter 'til six while I was standing out in front of the Kroger at Edgewood Commons with my bicycle-powered voter registration station and said, "I'm a convicted felon. Can I vote?" I told her, as I had been instructed, that if she had finished serving her sentence, including any time on parole, that the new Georgia law said that she certainly could. "I have done that," she responded, "a long, long time ago."

I could tell by the way she spoke those words that her conviction and her prison sentence were, for her, features of a former life, one that she had left behind entirely, except for a reminder every two years at election time that she was still required to continue to pay a price for mistakes made by her younger self.

"What do I have to do to register," she asked.

"Just fill out one of these forms."

"Do I take it with me?"

"You can take it with you or fill it out here, if you like."

"I want to fill it out right now."

With that she took my clipboard and pen and began to complete the registration form.

Typically I try not to look at people while they do this. The information they supply is personal and I imagine the registration process, like voting itself, to be a private activity. This time I could not help but glance at the woman's face and found myself struck by her expression of quiet determination as she moved the pen carefully across the paper, unlike most registrants at the supermarket who are in a rush to get on with their after-work grocery shopping and to get on home. This time it was different. This time there was an important task to be done and it had to be done properly.

Her words on the voter registration form were the closing words of a story that began "a long, long time ago," one that had finally - and rightfully - come to an end.