Saturday, February 16, 2008

Barack Obama is a Half-Breed Mongrel

There, I said it. Barack Obama is a Half-Breed Mongrel. But I mean that in a good way.

I am a Half-Breed Mongrel. In fact, I invented the term (not that anyone seems to want to steal credit from me). I coined the term not as an expression of self-loathing, but as my un-PC way to describe the growing army of people whose parents didn't have the discipline to breed with their own kind. Some of us were created this way by accident, and some by design--as if part of some misguided experiment to mutate the human species. But however we were created, we're all here, an odd assortment of strange-looking schizophrenics who don't quite fit in.

There are other terms to describe people of mixed race. Samoans use the term "afa-kasi," but that's too particular for general use. "Hapa" is too PC. I think of Half-Breed Mongrel, or HBM, as a little like the "N" word--not the "N" word ending with "er" that some whites used to hurl at African-Americans, but the "N" word ending with "a" that some African-Americans use affectionately with each other.

HBMs have a special tie to one another. I was talking to the computer guy at my new job and we had an instant bonding mini-thrill when we figured out that we were both mongrels. Why would a Japanese Portugese find kinship with a Jewish Samoan? Because we're HBM, dude! He went back and emailed me the names of other HBMs at the firm.

The term first came to me spontaneously a few years ago when I was an attorney at an old-time New York law firm, interviewing a law student for a summer job. She mentioned that she was half Japanese and half white. Without divulging my own impure origins, I said: "So you're a Half-Breed Mongrel." I said it with a straight face and a disapproving tone, as if to say: "You won't fit in here." At first, a look of disbelief came across her mongrel face; perhaps she was wondering if I had Tourette's Syndrome. Then, she seemed to notice my own incongruent features and realized that I was putting her on. Had she chosen to get offended, joke or no joke, she seriously could have gotten me fired. But she didn't get offended, because HBMs are cool people. She accepted our offer of employment and became my HBM colleague.

It has been said that anti-Semitism, racism and other similar phenomena are rooted in the fundamental human fear of "The Other." That's bad news for HBMs. We are the ultimate "Other." That's even the box that we all have to check on all those nosy forms that ask us what race we are. "Other" defines our identity.

But this group of "Others" is coming into its own. Our numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. To all you HBM-haters out there, it's time to back off. So what if we look funny? I've seen some pretty ugly purebreds in my time. And how many cultures do you have? Only one, you say? How boring. And look at all the cool people we've got: Tiger Woods, Alicia Keys, Halle Berry, The Rock, Keanu Reeves, Jessica Alba, Norah Jones, Cameron Diaz, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hines Ward, Jason Kidd. On the other hand, what do Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, and Idi Amin have in common? That's right. They were NOT HBM. You can add to that list Attila the Hun, who, had he been HBM, would have been known as "Attila the Half-Hun."

OK, so maybe I stacked the deck there just a little. I suppose that non-HBMs have an occasional OK person that I could have put on their list, like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King. But there are logical reasons why I believe that HBMs tend to be cool people. For one thing, we're forced to see the world from at least two perspectives. That's twice as many perspectives as many people ever acquire in their entire lives.

HBMs have an innate understanding that there are usually at least two valid ways of looking at most issues. That's a fundamental first step to accepting and finding common ground with other people. That doesn't mean that HBMs are all wishy washy moral relativists incapable of saying that anything is better than anything else. It simply means that we don't start out of the box with the rigidity of thinking that might afflict some of our non-HBM friends. In fact, that's why I think that HBMs tend to be good at thinking "outside of the box."

Also, it's hard to hate people who aren't your kind when you aren't even exactly your kind. Who am I supposed to hate? Everyone who isn't half Samoan and half Jewish (including my parents)? That's why HBMs tend to be inherently at ease with the fact that the world is made up of many different kinds of people with different perspectives, and that reasonable people can sometimes disagree. I think that it's no coincidence that Hawaii, the state that has a higher percentage of HBMs than any other, is famous for its "Aloha spirit." And I'm not the first to suggest that inter-marriage, and hence the creation of more HBMs, is the path to a more peaceful, tolerant future.

Right now, the hottest HBM going is Barack Obama. I'm actually supporting John McCain for President because of I'm much more closely aligned with his political philosophy, I trust his experience and judgment and I believe he has demonstrated extraordinary character over the course of his life. But that doesn't mean that I'm not proud of Barack Obama or that I'm not inspired by his hopeful, post-partisan rhetoric. And even though I have good faith differences of opinion with Obama on policy, I sure like the way that he represents us HBMs on the national stage. Most people will think of Obama as the first African-American President if he were to get elected (sorry, Bill Clinton), and that would certainly be an historical milestone given our country's history. But it would also be of great significance that he would be our first HBM President. That, too, would suggest volumes about how far race relations have come in America.

Even though Obama's political views are strongly to one side of America's political spectrum, he does not demonize those on the other side. That's very HBM, and it's the reason that most Republicans like Obama much better than the more centrist Hillary Clinton. McCain, by the way, also has a very HBM ability to work harmoniously with people from the other party--which is why I'm starting to have suspicions about his ancestry.

So a McCain-Obama race, because of the personalities of both men, would hopefully be waged with an HBM vibe and an HBM spirit. And regardless of who wins, reasonable, collaborative, open-minded HBMs everywhere will have reason to celebrate the ascendancy of our way of looking at the world.

So c'mon, HBMs, throw your hands in the air, and wave them all around like you just don't care. Stand up, be proud, and shout out loud:

HBM 'til I die!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who Has the Moral Authority to Question John McCain's Character?

I was flipping channels the other night and came across what appeared to be a biography of John McCain. My first thought was, "I don't need to see this. I already support the guy, and I know his story." I was more in the mood for some mindless entertainment after a long day.

I watched for a little, and then I couldn't stop watching. It turns out that I was watching the John McCain episode of "Headliners and Legends" on MSNBC. It should be required viewing for the entire country, as a civics lesson and as a profile in courage. I would say that even if he wasn't on the verge of becoming a major party's nominee for President of the United States.

Like most people, I knew that John McCain had endured brutal treatment as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. After so many years of hearing that recited as part of his biography, it became like an afterthought to me--a mere part of his resume, like Hillary Clinton's tenure as First Lady and Barack Obama's service as a community organizer.

It was quite compelling, then, to hear his story told in the way that it should be told, in all its horrifying, grotesque detail. How he was shot down and parachuted into a lake right in the middle of Hanoi, breaking both arms and a leg. How his nearly completely stripped body was dragged through the streets of Hanoi by an angry mob. How his painful injuries were exacerbated by beatings from that angry mob, including someone who smashed his shoulder with a rifle butt. How someone else in that mob lanced him with a bayonet. How he spent four extra years in captivity, including two years of solitary confinement and frequent torture, because he refused to allow himself to be used as a propaganda tool. How his body was so broken that it can never fully heal. How he came inches from death on a number of occasions, including twice by his own hand when things became unbearable. I couldn't begin to do his story justice by describing it here, without the footage, the photos and the emotional testimonials from those who lived through it with him or suffered helplessly at home praying for his return.

The show included interviews with some people I know. I have come to know Orson Swindle, McCain's fellow POW hero, because his wife, Angie Williams, worked for me. Orson, who slept on a concrete slab next to McCain in the Hanoi Hilton when the latter wasn't in solitary, told stories in his interview that brought McCain's heroism to life. It also reminded me of Orson's heroism.

I met John McCain's brother and fellow Navy veteran Joe McCain a couple of times at Orson and Angie's house. I don't know Joe McCain well, but he struck me as a very fun and jovial person. It packed quite an emotional punch, then, to see Joe McCain come to tears during his interview, even after so many years, when he described the pain of seeing his gravely injured brother in a propaganda video taken by his captors.

John McCain's heroism does not entitle him to be President. It does not mean that his views should not be vigorously challenged, on the merits, by those who strongly disagree with him in good faith. I believe that he has more than earned the right, however, to have people refrain from the character-impugning cheap shots that some have launched at him recently.

I've heard it said that John McCain betrays his own party because he craves the approval of the liberal media. Well, I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me that had John McCain been an approval addict, he would have made at least a half-hearted attempt to seek the approval of his sadistic captors during the war. He endured permanent bodily injury and years of extra captivity precisely because he did not seek their approval. And if John McCain was a betrayer, why did he choose to withstand unthinkable cruelty rather than betray his comrades and his country?

I would hate to put uncomfortable thoughts into the minds of McCain's critics, but isn't it at least conceivable to them that McCain takes the positions he takes not because of character flaws, but because he really believes in them? And hasn't the tremendous honor and character that he has demonstrated under unimaginably trying circumstances at least earned him the benefit of the doubt on that score?

I believe that some people may be launching unfair attacks on John McCain's character because they feel threatened by his moral credibility and want to tear it down. This is a free country, and subject only to our defamation laws, anyone has the right under the First Amendment to attack John McCain's character. While McCain's critics may have the legal authority to do so, I have yet to find one with the moral authority to do so.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

John McCain's Critics: Letting the Perfect Become the Enemy of the Great

Listening to the monolithic hysteria emanating from conservative talk radio over the past few days, one would think that the Republicans were about to select Che Guevara as their nominee. The aversion that some "professional conservatives" have to John McCain, the charismatic war hero who represents the GOP's best hope of retaining the White House, transcends the bounds of logic.

McCain's talk radio critics typically rattle off a list of issues on which McCain has allegedly "abandoned" his party. I respect the fact that McCain's critics have honest, good faith differences of opinion with him on certain issues. I just wish that those leading the group diatribe against McCain would be a little more consistent.

Many of McCain's critics are the same pundits who regularly blast liberal Democrats for not comprehending the overarching importance of the fight against Islamo-fascism. That is how many of these pundits justified their willingness to seriously consider supporting Rudy Giuliani's candidacy, notwithstanding his liberal views on social issues. During Giuliani's long tenure as "national frontrunner," his perceived electability in November made many radio pundits willing to set aside their differences with Giulani on almost everything. After all, they reasoned, the War on Terror was the issue that dwarfed all others, and even a "liberal" Republican in the White House would be better than Hillary Clinton. I like Giuliani, and found the willingness of many conservative Republicans to embrace Giuliani's candidacy to be a hopeful sign that the Republican Party's "big tent" was expanding further than ever. And I believe that if Giuliani had not made serious campaign strategy errors and had maintained his frontrunner status, conservatives would have indeed rallied around him.

Well, it appears that the logic that held sway when John McCain's campaign was in the ashes has been swept away in the updraft of his Phoenix-like rise (as it has often been described) from said ashes. Most of McCain's talk radio critics will grudgingly acknowledge that McCain has by far the strongest credentials to lead the War on Terror, but balk at supporting him because of his stands on immigration (where President Bush agrees with him), campaign finance reform (where President Bush signed his legislation) and other issues. But wait a minute: Isn't the War on Terror still the issue that dwarfs all others? And why can't conservative pundits who were willing to live with Giuliani's stands on abortion, gay marriage and gun control accept McCain's independent stands on issues that, while important, are much less fundamental to social conservatives? Are these pundits really willing to risk losing Republican control of the White House in the middle of the War on Terror because they object to McCain's stands on campaign finance reform and environmental protection?

What's going on now is something out of Alice in Wonderland. McCain's critics are impugning the character and integrity of a genuine American war hero who endured five and a half years of brutal treatment as a POW. In order to stop him, they are belatedly rallying around a candidate who has had very recent and very dramatic changes of heart on many issues that social conservatives hold dear, suspiciously coinciding with his decision to seek the Presidency.

Despite all of the huffing and puffing from some quarters, McCain has excellent conservative credentials on issues that have defined the movement in the modern era. He is pro-life, he is a crusader against excessive and wasteful government spending, and has by far the best credentials of all of the candidates on national security. Notwithstanding McCain's solid conservative record, he has always demonstrated an ability to find common ground with those across the aisle. While hard-core ideologues will find this to be a weakness, most normal Americans will recognize this as a strength. Most Americans are not ideologues. They respond to candidates who have strong core values, but without an ideological rigidity that prevents them from thinking independently. McCain thinks independently. This is why independent voters, among others, respond so strongly to him. It may also be why some people are threatened by him.

Most voters have the maturity to recognize that no one candidate will be a perfect fit for them on every issue. There is the famous saying that cautions against allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. In the case of John McCain, who has inspired so many with his exceptional courage and love of country, some misguided souls are causing the perfect to become the enemy of the great.

You Got Beat, Beli-Cheat! (And Ain't it Sweet!)

Don Shula, Bob Griese, Mercury Morris and the rest of the 1972 Miami Dolphins can finally pop open their bottle of champagne. They've never had to wait this long, but better late than never. The New England Patriots, heavy favorites to post the second perfect season in NFL history, tonight lost a 17-14 Super Bowl thriller to the New York Football Giants. The 1972 Dolphins remain the only team in NFL history to go through an entire season undefeated, culminating with a Super Bowl victory.

Under different circumstances, I would have been rooting for the Patriots. Had the Patriots achieved their perfect season, they would have gone down as the best team in NFL history thus far. They won more games than the 1972 Dolphins, and had been a far more dominant team. It would have been really cool to see a team achieve the historical level of excellence that New England seemed to be headed for.

I couldn't bring myself to root for the Patriots, though. They were way too arrogant, starting with their coach. I can admire confidence, cockiness, or a winner's swagger. This year's Patriots, however, repeatedly crossed the line into an offensive form of bullying.

I'm a Washington Redskins fan. The Patriots beat the Redskins, 52-7, earlier in the season. Blowouts happen, but this one left an especially bad taste in my mouth. The Patriots left their starters, including Tom Brady, in the game way after the outcome was no longer in doubt. On at least two occasions, they went for it on fourth down just so they could run up the score. They humiliated Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' recently retired Hall-of-Fame coach and one of football's most decent men. I was disgusted.

The Patriots won many of their games in similar fashion. Although I had alot of admiration for the Patriots unprecedented level of accomplishment on the field, there was much about that team that I couldn't stand. I couldn't stand Bill Beli-jerk's smugness, and how his team played the victim card after they had been caught cheating. And while the Patriots adopted "Humble Pie" as their motto, I had a hard time detecting much sincere humility. I had actually been happy for Randy Moss's comeback this season, but was pretty offended by his failure to pay proper respect to Jerry Rice after Moss broke Rice's record for touchdown receptions in a season. Since Rice had set his record in a 12-game strike-shortened season, Moss might have at least demonstrated a little "Humble Pie" after taking 16 games to break that record.

After the Redskins went on an improbable late-season run to the playoffs, fueled by the inspirational memory of murdered All-Pro safety Sean Taylor, I thought that the Redskins might be destined to go all the way to the Super Bowl, where they would avenge the Patriots' early-season bullying by ruining their perfect season. Well, that particular revenge fantasy never came to pass, but the Giants' come-from-behind shocker tonight was pretty satisfying in its own right.

As a result of tonight's Super Bowl loss, this year's Patriots have not only failed to become the best team in NFL history, they've dropped themselves clear out of the conversation. You can't be in the "greatest team ever" conversation without winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots were one score away from becoming the first team ever to win 19 games in a season. Instead, they're merely the third to win 18 games, and the first 18-game winner to fail to win the Super Bowl.

After their unprecedented streak of perfection, the Patriots' season ultimately ended up as a failure. That's harsh, but that's the way it is. Sports history isn't kind to players and teams that achieve great things but ultimately fail to "win the big one."

I must say, however, that one thing about the Patriots loss makes me very sad. I very much wanted (and still want) to see linebacker Junior Seau get a championship ring. Seau is a Samoan role model and one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game. This was his first time back in the Super Bowl since he led his overmatched Chargers against the 49'ers 14 years ago. Seau is a classy guy who deserved to go out as a champion. Maybe he still will. If he comes back next year, and if his Patriot teammates start taking this "Humble Pie" stuff seriously, maybe I'll be rooting for them this time next year.