Thursday, June 09, 2005

My Kind of Crazy Republican

[He] was variously reported to have marched twenty miles through heavy rain (in Norfolk jacket, corduroy knickers, yellow leggings, and russet shoes), swum nude across the freezing river, and climbed with fingers and toes up the blast holes of a disused quarry. His habit of forcing luncheon guests to accompany him on afternoon treks did not endear him to those who would have preferred to remain behind with the wine and walnuts.

. . .

On May 28, he was seen hanging from a cable over the Potomac, presumably in some effort to toughen his wrists. Owen Wister caught him walking behind John Hay on tiptoe, bowing like an obsequious Oriental. This might or might not have been connected with the fact that [he] was currently studying jujitsu. White House groundsmen, unaware that he was a published ornithologist, were puzzled by his habit of standing under trees, motionless, for long periods of time. Hikers in Rock Creek State Park learned to take cover when he galloped by, revolver in hand; he had a habit of "popping" shortsightedly at twigs and stumps with live ammunition.

. . .

On another occasion he appeared in George Cortelyou's antechamber and jumped clean over a chair. He encouraged his big horse, Bleistein, to similar arts of levitation at the Chevy Chase Club. Photographs of them airborne together soon appeared in the Washington Times. [He] was delighted--"Best pictures I've ever had taken!"--and passed out autographed copies to his Cabinet.

On Teddy Roosevelt as President. Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, pp. 81, 108-109.

T.R. found such free time while returning the Cuba he helped liberate and modernize to its people, waging a war for the Philipines, decrying continued lynchings in the South, taking White House dinner with Booker T. Washington (for which he was called "a rank negrophilist" and "a coon-flavored president" by his more vocal detractors; to which he responded, "I shall have him to dine just as often as I please"), and winning votes for construction of the Panama Canal. Not to mention taking on the largest trust in American history.

Now that's Presidential.

Eleven Thoughts for Today

1. Every one of us has our most comfortable place, our zone. And I'm sure there are factors--some divergent--that influence what that zone is. For instance, like many people, I'm most comfortable when sleeping right before I get up. Which can be annoying, but the memory of that perfect snooze-place can keep me mellow in the mornings. When I'm eating a banana that's in my banana zone it's a little brown. No green anywhere. But not "past". Everyone has their banana zone. These are minor, everyday zones.

The more profound ones are the ones where you feel like you can relax and fill-out, occupy, the whole, real you. Really be you. Like when I'm running, after the first few minutes when my muscles and joints are elbowing each other, when I get into that state in which I feel like the top of my body is hovering over well-oiled, precision-engineered gears as my arms and legs rhythm me through the miles.

Speaking of rhythm, I'm in the zone at my drum set. I have been since I was 10 years old. When I'm in, I'm in, always pushing myself with more challenging parts, 3-D in the athleticism of it, the soaring of the music, the muscle of it, but also the polyrhythms, the details, the off-beat fills, the accents, the melodic undertones of the musical drummer. Wildly hoping that someday I'll approximate the talents and skills of Max Roach, Carter Beauford, Dave Weckl, Art Blakey, Stewart Copeland.

I'm in the zone when I'm reading. Maybe a Daniel Silva novel or maybe one of my birding books or an account of the Arab-Israeli air wars of the past 60 years.

I'm in the zone when I'm waist-deep in a trout stream simultaneously watching my Adams dry fly and an American Dipper perched on a low rock looking for lunch and my mind is not wandering to work or extended-family issues.

I'm in the zone when I'm talking and laughing with my wife, and we both admire each other so much. Or when I'm reading to my smiling and pointing daughter. Or when I'm deep into throwing the glow-ball with my dog.

But the wandering mind, the daily anxieties-- they can break the zone. I need to work on maintaining the relaxation, the focus. Where are your zones?

2. David Bowie, in an interview for Rolling Stone back in 2003 (I believe) said that he was "not quite an atheist" and "that bothers me." I was taken by this because: 1) I've been there; and 2) it signifies to me both a) what I believe is the inherent, subconscious ability of all humans to realize their place in a universe occupied by a living presence more powerful than theirs, and b) our intrinsic human-centeredness, the natural top-predator, most-advanced-species inclination to doubt, fear, ridicule, or otherwise resist anything that tends to evade our knowledge and influence. With all that in mind, I also think--in classic Bowie style--he's saying something profound that is also zippy and edgy and rock-n-roll enough for a guy like me to quote on his pipsqueak blog site. Which is just cool.

3. I wonder how "most Arabs" (and I put that in quotes to let you know how ridiculous such a generalization is, but that's all I can do for now) discern the American military's treatment of their Arab brothers and sisters. Perhaps I should ask how "most Muslims" feel, but that begs the question how many of "most Muslims" out there would consider any of the (alleged) fundamentalist jihadists in American prison camps brethren.

In an interview with NPR this morning, a mass-media professor at an American university in Lebanon said that "most" of the people he's talked to or seen interviewed on Middle Eastern TV news shows believe Americans mistreat Muslim prisoners in violation of international law. Since the Abu Ghraib photos appeared, this is the baseline assumption, he said.

As we all know, Newsweek published its Koran-flushing tidbit, a riot killing over a dozen people ensued in Afghanistan, then Newsweek retracted the story. Now the Pentagon admits American soldiers have kicked, stepped on, and possibly splashed urine on the Koran. The professor said that none of this was surprising to "most" Muslims in the Middle East, and that no one believed the retraction. When asked whether Koran-bashing U.S. interrogators and prison staffers in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Gitmo represented a "secular" Western powerhouse with no respect for religion or a "Christian" nation bent on undermining or even destroying Islam, the professor said almost all of those Muslims questioned chose the second answer.

Now, I know that one professor at one university in Lebanon is one--and only one--uncorroborated (and in this case, second-hand) source. If I were a journalist, I'd be conducting my own surveys of folks in the bazaars and markets and cafes in Beirut, Kabul, Damascus, and Amman. I'd be interviewing other "experts," and government ministers, opposition spokespeople, and clerics. But I'm not a journalist. I'm just a blogger. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume "most" Muslims in the Middle East do believe there is a new form of Crusade taking place, perpetrated by a few Americans whose stereotyped mistreatment of prisoners, now confirmed by the Pentagon, goes a long way. Is this cause for worry? I think so.

4. Sen. Biden said that the U.S. should close down Gitmo because of the bad publicity it generates. To those "most Muslims" out there, isn't this an insult? If one of the 101 facially most important people in U.S. government suggests we shut down an internationally criticized prison camp, shouldn't he suggest that we do it because of human-rights problems or because it's no longer serving its purpose, not to improve America's image? While his proferred reason might be a nice circumstantial effect, by playing his hand so poorly he makes the United States look like it cares more about what people think is happening at Gitmo than what is actually going down. Of course that may be exactly what is happening.

5. Prisoner abuse. Anyone who has ever watched Counterterrorism Unit Agent Jack Bauer, the Keifer Sutherland character on the hit TV show "24", circumvent the Constitutional rights of individual prisoners to save the lives of millions of Americans has seen prisoner abuse portrayed in exquisite detail in their living room. And, like all of you who have seen it, I've experienced that thrill that comes from that feeling that "ultimate justice" has been done.

And so many people out there agree: what's one person's rights in the face of terror? Even I, an attorney well versed in the Constitution, let my heart go there. Especially when I consider the unsavory idea that to protect my wife or daughter I'd gladly beat the living daylights out of someone with information that could save them, as long as nothing else worked. And yet I recall this: if the least and ugliest of us are denied their rights, those rights cannot be guaranteed for the best and most beautiful. Much less the rest of us.

6. One of my brothers-in-law lives and works in Afghanistan. He's been in Kabul for some time. Soon he will be moving north. Here are some observations he sent me. I hope he doesn't mind my sharing. But the world should know:

a) Location of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan: northeast, bordering China,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan;

b) Number of hours spent on horse from April 27-May 6 in Badakhshan province surveying potential hydropower sites: ~50;

c) Number of hoped-for hydropower installations for Badakhshan province, 2005: 20;

d) Average winter diet of Badakhshan's people: bread, tea, rice, oil;

e) Number of meals eaten with meat or beans during April 27-May 6 survey trip: 1;

f) Number of meals with vegetables or fruit: 0;

g) Rank, worldwide, of Badakhshan for maternal mortality rate: 1;

h) Amount allegedly paid by one of the new district governors to provincial government, for a one-year post: $100,000;

i) Number of district governors we drank tea
with who are aiding opium smugglers in their district: 3;

j) Number of foreign NGO offices burned to the ground in the town of Bahrak, two
hours (by car) east of Faizabad, on May 14, 2005: 3;

k) Number of Afghan women hanged in Baghlan province (just west of Badakhshan) on May 16, 2005: 3

7. Renewal of the Patriot Act. If only those affected by it were able to bring suit to challenge its constitutionality. The irony. No doubt some provisions are fine, but c'mon. Perhaps some of the firey Dems on their lukewarm side of the aisle will blast it with more than idle rhetoric as the vote nears.

8. I really like how Howard Dean says whatever he's feeling. I respect that in a person. I like the passion, the honesty. Too bad so many people see him as the voice of all Democrats. He is, of course, Democratic Party Chairman, so what should I expect? Would someone please harness his energy and put it to good use without further undermining the political prowess of the Democratic party? Thanks.

9. I like nothing better than dancing with my 15-month-old daughter. She's all spirit and life and happy movement and love. And--dang!--is she funny!

10. I dig fine weather photography. Check out this incredible shot of a sun-lit tornado destroying a house. Yikes. Eric Nguyen's photos of tornadoes and supercells and wall clouds are some of my favorites.

11. Get outside today.