Saturday, August 09, 2008

Little Kabul

Fremont, California

First, the Farmer's Market, where we found fresh okra, artichokes, goya, cherry tomatoes, baby bok choy, heirloom potatoes, peppers, peanuts, daikon, carrots, corn, white peaches, garlic nan, red string beans, cilantro, and brussel sprouts still on their stalks.

Then, The Salang Pass, which serves the best Afghan food I've tasted since flying away from Kabul to Beirut 37 years ago. Mantu, Sabzi Chillow with lamb, Qorma Chillow with chicken, Dorgh, nan, salata -- all delicious.

The Afghan markets are piled high with herbs and sauces, nuts and kishmish. The mournful ballad at the restaurant reminded us of what a tragedy the Afghans have endured in the decades since I was there. The owner, a tall, handsome man in his sixties, asked how I knew Dari; when I told him he got a faraway look in his dark eyes. "Those were the good times," he sighed.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Letter from Fremont

Fremont, CA.

I don't think I've ever been here before, but Fremont is an example of how diverse California has become. I'm sitting in a hotel surrounded by Asian stores and restaurants -- Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Chinese, Korean, Thai -- among many others. Our state has no "minorities" because we have no majority race.

Across the Dumbarton Bridge from here, in Silicon Valley, where I work, the population is split almost evenly between Latino, Asian, Afro-American, and White people. No group even has a clear plurality.

Maybe this aspect of California (and Hawaii and much of the West Coast) is why few of us can comprehend why in other parts of America Barack Obama's race is an issue. We live in as close to a post-racial society as exists on this continent; perhaps even the world. Only when all kinds of people mix can you begin to transcend race.

Why? Because stereotypes, though often containing a grain of truth, never deliver a true understanding about the nature of people. For every person who seems to fit into a racial stereotype, there are ten others who don't.


Starting at a few minutes before 2 pm today, I embarked on a marathon circumvention of the Bay. First, I drove Junko here to Fremont so she could watch "Japan TV," which tonight aired the dopcumentary that she worked on about Joe O'Donnell, the military photographer who shot those memorable and haunting images of Nagasaki's children after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Then, I raced northward to the Oakland airport, where I signed a special form in order to be allowed to go to the gate and greet my 9-year-old daughter, back from her trip as a "Mother's Helper" with her two big sisters in Portland, helping with their babies.

I'm sure she felt so grown up as she emerged from the plane. In my eyes, she is the perfect little princess, with a lancard around her neck identifying her as an "unaccompanied minor."

"Daddy!" she cried as she ran to my waiting arms. I'm surprised the airline even requires a signature at times like that, but I don't mind.

She and I inched our way north and then west across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, and then turned south toward Bernal Hill. Her Mom and 12 and 13-year-old brothers joyfully greeted her, as I turned my trusty car, by now low in gas, back down the peninsula, past the airport, past my office, and across the Dumbarton once again to this place, Fremont.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

No way to treat a donor...

I've never been a Paris Hilton fan. As far as I knew, she was just another run-of-the-mill celebrity, i.e., famous for being famous (as opposed to being famous for having ever done anything of value.)

That has now changed. Hilton was a donor to the McCain campaign, and (obviously) a supporter, until he launched his latest poison hit piece against Obama, comparing the brilliant young Senator from Illinois to a brainless celebrity -- as in Hilton, whose image he used in his ad.

Hilton, to her eternal credit, struck back, with this spoof ad. What I love most about it is her timely suggestions for an energy plan. While the candidates assume their positions, watching the polls and gauging how their words will play in swing states, this young woman just talks good, old-fashioned common sense. (The point of last night's post, BTW, was how cynical both candidates will prove to be in choosing their V-Ps.)

Now, of course, I know (and you can see) that she was simply reading teleprompter copy written by somebody far wiser than she is, at least about energy issues. But even an actor can't fake playing herself down to the letter so perfectly that she's turned what (in my view) up until now was a negative into a true contribution to the public good.

Paris, you go girl!

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The VPs Revealed

If you have not been paying attention to every tiny detail of this summer's political psychodrama masquerading as a Presidential campaign, you've made a very wise choice. The Republican candidate, John McCain, who has trailed all along in the polls, has chosen to exploit the one ugly remnant of the old America -- racism -- that has survived every positive social change in our wonderful country these past 50 years, in order to try and undermine his opponent, Barack Obama, the first African-American candidate who actually has a chance to be President.

There are so many awful aspects of this choice by McCain that I cannot really get into it here, so I'll pivot to another topic -- who the Vice-Presidential candidates will be. After considering all the evidence I could gather, I've concluded that the tickets will be McCain-Romney vs. Obama-Clinton.

Politics has always made strange bedfellows, and this year is no different. When all is said and done, the presumptive nominees (against all current buzz) will choose to add their most serious opponent in the primaries to their ticket.

This is not an opinion I would have reached on my own. This is the consensus of those who predict on such matters at Predictify. The "wisdom of the crowds" proves to true more often than not...


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Gold Medalist from our Town

I did my growing up from the age of ten in a true backwater town, Bay City, Michigan. Nestled up against Saginaw Bay, which carves the thumb out of the hand that is the lower peninsula of my native state, the Saginaw Valley is a rich, black soil farming region, where my best friend from high school days, Howard Kohn, grew up on a farm that he memorialized in his classic memoir, My Father's Farm.

In the 1964 Winter Olympics, the U.S. Team won only one gold medal, and the guy who did it, against all odds, was a shy 24-year-old from Bay City named Terry McDermott. He beat the reigning two-time Gold Medal winner, a Russian skater named Evgenie Grishin, in the 500 meter sped skating event in a world record performance.

Afterwards, he came back to sleepy Bay City and resumed his work at Bunny's Barber Shop, where my Dad and I got our haircuts. I don't think I ever actually got a haircut from Terry, but I watched him as he graciously handled the many patrons who came into the barbershop to get a glimpse of history.

Sometimes, when my friends and I went to a skating rink on the outside of town, I would see him skating alone, racing around the rink with grace at a speed none of us could even dream of, let alone compete against.

Inevitably, some farm boy would challenge him to a race, and he good-naturedly accepted and then proceeded to leave the guy looking baffled in his wake.

As the 2008 Summer Olympics approach, I thought about Terry McDermott tonight. I'm quite sure he never even noticed me, a very quiet, shy boy with glasses who rarely spoke a word in public, and who, on skates, was graceful as an off-balance elephant trying to stand on a beach ball.

He must be about 68 now, and though largely forgotten by American society at large, he remains a hero of mine.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

She would have been 93 today; I'm so happy I was with her on her last, which turned out to be #87. I enjoyed sending her flowers on her birthday, and I actually still miss that pleasure.

They say you don't know what you had until you lose it, but I did. My mother was a hero to me. An immigrant, an extremely intelligent woman whose family prevented her from pursuing a college education out of an old-world sexism, she overcame plenty of barriers.

But you can't stunt a female mind simply by denying her access to higher education. My mother read and thought and felt deeply. I had some of my most rewarding conversations with her.

After my Dad died, I saw her as often as possible, though we were initially a continent apart; then quite a bit closer, until we were once again distant -- me in San Francisco and she in Lansing, Michigan.

I remember the day I found out she was dying. As I drove away from my office at Stanford, I glanced down at I-280 in a southward direction. The sun was bright; it seemed as if every crack and its filling was suddenly and brilliantly visible.

Like the lines on my aged mother's face, the highway beckoned me onward. I drove home, packed, drove to the Oakland airport and took off for Detroit. My little 8-year-old son insisted at the airport on going with me, and he did.

We both were there with her at her last moments of consciousness, as was most of our large, extended family.

Endings always are sad, but when it comes to a life, there's only so much point in concentrating on how it ended. In my mother's case, there were 87 rich years plus a couple months of mental acuity, and emotional connection. I never for even a moment doubted that she loved me, and I hope she felt the mutuality of our love.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

McCain's Slave Owner Heritage

In the year 2000, when I was Salon's Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief, we covered all of the major Presidential candidates very closely. Journalists do not like to play favorites, but one of the politicians our correspondents liked the best that year was John McCain. He was the "straight-talker" among those vying for the Presidency. (No one would have accused George W. Bush or Al Gore of doing that; both clearly had mastered the ability to talk out of both sides of their mouths.)

This reprint of what we found out about our fav, John McCain, is published with all due respect, to help establish the proper context for the current decision by the McCain campaign to play the "race card" in 2008 against Obama. I am searching for copies of the original slave rolls that we based our report on, and as soon as I find them, I'll publish them here.

Here is the original report on Salon, which deserves wider circulation, given the current political situation, IMHO:

McCain's ancestors owned slaves

The senator's family history includes a Civil War era plantation in Mississippi.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Suzi Parker and Jake Tapper

Arizona Sen. John McCain is learning a lot about his family history in the course of this presidential campaign.

Because of his bestselling family memoir, "Faith of My Fathers," which details the lives and military careers of his father, Adm. John McCain II, and grandfather, Adm. John "Slew" McCain, veterans flock to his campaign appearances and book signings. They trade stories about his heroic forebears and share anecdotes.

The family's storied military history stretches back to Carroll County, Miss., where McCain's great-great grandfather William Alexander McCain owned a plantation, and later died during the Civil War as a soldier for the Mississippi cavalry.

But what McCain didn't know about his family until Tuesday was that William Alexander McCain had owned 52 slaves. The senator seemed surprised after Salon reporters showed him documents gathered from Carroll County Courthouse, the Carrollton Merrill Museum, the Mississippi State Archives and the Greenwood, Miss., Public Library.

"I didn't know that," McCain said in measured tones wearing a stoic expression during a midday interview, as he looked at the documents before Tuesday night's debate. "I knew they had sharecroppers. I did not know that."

This documentation includes slave schedules from Sept. 8, 1860, which list as the slave owner, "W.A. McCain." The schedules list the McCain family's slaves in the customary manner of the day -- including their age, gender and "color," labelling each either "black" or "mulatto." The slaves ranged in age from 6 months to 60 years.

"I knew we fought in the Civil War," McCain went on. "But no, I had no idea. I guess thinking about it, I guess when you really think about it logically, it shouldn't be a surprise. They had a plantation and they fought in the Civil War so I guess that it makes sense."

"It's very impactful," he said of learning the news. "When you think about it, they owned a plantation, why didn't I think about that before? Obviously, I'm going to have to do a little more research."

Then he began to piece together information out loud. "So maybe their sharecroppers that were on the plantation were descendants of those slaves," he said.

Tracing the genealogies of slaves is often easy, because slaves frequently adopted the surnames of their owners. In 1876, for example, a Mary J. McCain married Isham Hurt. The two had a son, blues guitarist "Mississippi" John Hurt, in 1892 on Teoc, the plantation community where the McCains owned 2,000 acres.

"Is that right?" McCain asked, after considering his possible connection to the famous bluesman, who died in 1966. "That's fascinating," he said.

McCain said his interest in his family heritage always had been focused on his military background, not his Southern roots. "I just hadn't thought about it, to tell you the truth, because I really feel that my heritage is the military," he said.

The South -- and its struggle to reconcile its past -- has presented the GOP candidates with a briar patch of issues to deal with during this campaign. Both McCain and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have grappled with South Carolina's fight over whether the Confederate flag should be allowed to fly over the capitol.

In addition, Bush has spoken at a college, Bob Jones University, that maintains a ban on interracial dating.

While McCain denounced Bush's appearance at Bob Jones and the university's dating policy, he has hedged on the flag issue. "As to how I view the flag, I understand both sides," McCain said a few weeks ago. "Some view it as a symbol of slavery. Others view it as a symbol of heritage.

McCain added at that time: "Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage. I have ancestors who have fought for the Confederacy, none of whom owned slaves. I believe they fought honorably."

Mark Salter, McCain's Senate chief of staff and co-author of "Faith of My Fathers," said Tuesday that no one in McCain's family had ever told him that his ancestors had owned slaves. Salter said that McCain simply assumed his family would have shared such information.

In "Faith of My Fathers," McCain brushes over much of his Mississippi heritage, dedicating about four pages to it. According to Salter, the family history was based on a haphazard mess of information contained in a box kept by McCain's younger brother, Joe.

Furthermore, in his book, the senator writes that the McCains of Teoc "never lamented the South's fall."

The writer Elizabeth Spencer, a cousin to John McCain, does mention the family's slaves in her family memoir, "Landscapes of the Heart," -- a book McCain and his co-author Slater both say they have read, though they say not closely enough to have caught her glancing references to the family's slaves.

Early in Spencer's book, she refers casually to the issue in a reference to her family's history. "All the descendents of slave-holding families I have ever known believe in the benevolence of their forebears as master," she wrote.

An entire floor in the Carrollton Merrill Museum is devoted to the McCain family's local legacy. Boxes are crammed with McCain family memories: In one small, clear, plastic box, a photo of John McCain in full Navy attire is signed "With Love to Grandmother and Aunt Catherine, Johnny." On the back of the photo is written in fading ink: "John S. McCain III, graduation from Naval Academy. Now a P.O.W. in Vietnam." McCain said he was surprised to learn of the photograph.

Also in the museum is a 1949 letter to Katie Lou McCain, a great aunt to the senator, from family friend Ella Stone, who wrote: "He [William Alexander McCain] bought a plantation on Teoc creek [sic] and named it 'Waverly.' They owned slaves and were happy in their plantation life until that terrible holocaust, the War Between the States."

At the end of the interview, McCain said he was glad to know about his family's history. "At the next opportunity, I'm going to go" visit the Merrill Museum, he said.

Though McCain may have been ignorant of his Mississippi roots, those who live in Carroll County today remember the McCain family well. Residents recall the senator's great-grandfather, John McCain Sr., who served two terms as sheriff. They remember Katie Lou McCain and Sen. John McCain's uncle, Joe, who owned Teoc until his death in 1952.

Simpson Hemphill, a longtime Carroll County resident, lives 4 miles down the road from the old McCain place. "That place was a couple of thousand acres," says Hemphill, 70, in a lyrical drawl. "They raised cotton and corn." Hemphill didn't doubt that the McCains owned slaves, "but back then that was as legal as a loaf of bread."

McCain -- an Arizonan raised all over the country, in true military brat fashion -- might be shocked if he were ever to visit Carroll County, birthplace of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. If the proverbial sleepy Southern town ever existed, Carrollton is it. The civil rights movement seemingly hasn't made it down to Carrollton, where blacks and whites still live, literally, on opposite sides of the railroad tracks. Confederate flags wave on front porches. The Arizona senator has never visited rustic Merrill Museum, built in 1834, which sits on historic Carrollton town square where a Confederate flag flies in front of the county's grand Civil War memorial.

McCain dismisses the significance of his Southern roots in the campaign, saying it would be "ridiculous" for him to campaign in South Carolina as "a good ol' boy." He's a military man, he says, and that institution is his real home, not any particular geographical location. When accused of being a carpetbagger in his first run for the House in Arizona in 1982, he noted that the longest he'd ever lived in one place was in Hanoi, when he was a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years.

He says he has been touched by South Carolina's patriotism during this campaign. He says he feels a commonality with the residents of this state because of their love of country and their military service. But not, he says, because of his Southern roots. | Feb. 15, 2000

- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writers
Jake Tapper is the lead Washington correspondent for Salon's Politics2000.

Suzi Parker is a Little Rock writer who frequently contributes to Politics2000.

Out with the Old; In with the New

The U.S. President is not the most powerful man in the world. Globally, he is one part of an international network of leaders, ever more closely tied together culturally, technologically, and economically. Domestically, he is the head of one of three co-equal branches of government -- the executive branch. Although he can assert influence over the legislative and the judiciary branches, he does not control them.

Few administrations in history have had to face the frightening kind of attack on the U.S. mainland as did the Bush administration on 9/11. It was a relatively young Presidency still, but it grew up fast. As a new book by Jane Mayer documents, Dick Cheney effectively took control of the response, authorizing torture, the occupation of Afghanistan, widespread surveillance of Americans, secret military prisons, "renditions," and other actions that remain so tightly classified we do not yet know what they are.

Cheney also led the wing of the administration that decided to invade Iraq and overthrow the secular, non-terrorist sponsor dictator Saddam Hussein -- a bad man for sure but one who had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

This cowboy foreign policy, which has been supported every step of the way by another cowboy, John McCain, has helped ruin America's reputation in the world, sacrificed untold lives of American, Iraqi, and Afghan innocents, bankrupted the federal budget, undermined our precious civil liberties, and spurred the growth of new terror networks throughout the Islamic world.

The whole damn mess backfired, yet few Republicans have the courage to admit that. Instead, they cling to small signs, like improved security in Iraq, or a handful of al-Qaeda leaders killed near the Afghan border, as signs that their tactics ultimately will be successful.

This is the legacy John McCain wants to inherit and perfect. He wants to be the man in office when Osama bin-Laden is finally brought to justice.


Meanwhile, we common Americans need a fresh vision. We do not want to be the enemy of everyone else in this world. We want to be friends. We do not hate people of other faiths; we welcome them into our communities and our families. We do not want to see our economic fortunes destroyed in the name of some theoretical national sacrifice that is in fact a militaristic and systematic abuse of other people' human rights. We abhor that kind of regime.

We need a face of integrity, a person who will not only talk the talk of change but walk the walk. Speaking of talking, we want wise leaders who understand the role of diplomacy, not paranoid sociopaths who refuse to speak to their "enemies," thereby eschewing the one great tool in our arsenal -- our wealth -- that could and should be employed to wage peace, not war.

All of this is, or should be, self-evident to thinking persons. The ignorant, suspicious, frightened portion of the American population cannot be the segment that controls all of our fate any longer. We need to bring those in the Bush administration responsible for war crimes and crimes against the domestic population to justice. The courts have started the process by forcing detainees at Gitmo to be given at least the semblance of trials; and by refusing Karl Rove and others who claim they are above the law and therefore refuse to appear before Congress when subpeanoed.

Rove and the others soon will be held in contempt of Congress if they continue to refuse to appear, which can be the beginning of more substantive legal actions against them. It is time to dismantle this corrupt, mean-spirited government that has ruled on the basis of fear. Tyrants rule on fear.

As difficult as it is going to be for Democrats to resist fighting for the Presidency without sinking to the depths of meanness and exploitation of fear that the Republicans have already embraced whole-heartedly, it is critical that our next President be a healer, not another in a long string of dividers.

As we bid farewell to the "Decider," hopefully we can welcome a President who understands his true role in this complex new world -- the Uniter!