Friday, March 03, 2006

Morality In A Brothel

It’s taken a couple of days for me to get to this, but with Tinseltown’s big party scheduled for this weekend, it’s appropriate for now I guess.

It was nice to see CNN and other news outlets discuss the 30th anniversary of the film “Network” with director Sidney Lumet, who, in a truly prodigious career, also directed the films 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict, among many others. As noted from the CNN story, Lumet (at 81) is still working and getting ready to direct another film (not only was his 1976 triumph great, but the Mad Magazine parody called “Nutwork” was hilarious also – I wish I could track down a copy of it somewhere).

This film, which I believe was the last ever written by the late, great screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, has enough smarts for about five other movies with some of the finest (and most surreal) screen dialogue ever written. It’s not possible to summarize all of it in a single post and do it justice, but I’ll recap some of it here (though the 70s clothing, hairstyles, and bits of dialogue are truly dated).

- The scene at the beginning with William Holden (Max Schumacher) and Peter Finch (Howard Beale) as Schumacher is firing him, with both men laughing and drunk, telling the story about the George Washington Bridge in NYC, set the tone I thought for some of the naked emotion shown in the film (see, Schumacher’s former boss told him once to get down to the bridge and bring a camera crew, in the middle of the night and all messed up, and Schumacher calls the cab and tells the cabbie where he’s going, and the cabbie, thinking Schumacher is going to kill himself, says, “Don’t do it, buddy. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” and then Schumacher tells that story again later in front of his staff, giving you the feeling that he’s told that story MANY times).

- The negotiations between Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), and terrorists Laureen Hobbs and the Great Ahmed Khan of the Ecumenical Liberation Army over broadcast rights of their criminal activity, with Khan, in total exasperation, firing a shotgun into the air and yelling “Man, give her the --- over head clause!”

- The vulnerability shown by both William Holden and Faye Dunaway’s characters was touching and a bit uncomfortable, with Holden saying to Dunaway as he leaves her that “you’re madness, Diana. You’re television incarnate.”

- I originally thought it was ridiculous that Beatrice Straight won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for only a five-minute performance, but I watched it again and took note of how well she portrayed controlled fury upon hearing the news that William Holden’s character was leaving her (accompanied of course by Chayefsky’s wonderful dialogue).

- Speaking of fury, the speech by Ned Beatty (as CC and A chairman Arthur Jensen) to Beale was a pivotal moment of course, partly because of the way Finch was photographed with that thunderstruck expression on his face (after Finch/Beale makes the speech about the Arabs buying up this country, which I believe was more prescient that Chayefsky could have realized). In awe, Beale tells Jensen, “I have seen the face of God,” and Jensen slyly replies, “You just may be right, Mr. Beale.”

- A very young Tim Robbins appears for a few minutes near the end of the movie (maybe his first screen role? Don’t know…) as one of Beale’s assassins.

And try explaining to me, by the way, how “The Howard Beale Show” (described by a ruthless young CC and A executive named Frank Hackett who is “turning out the old guard” of the network…a genius turn of acting by Robert Duvall…as “a big, fat, big-titted hit!”) is actually NOT a cousin of TV “infotainment” and “reality” television. Also, if anyone doubts just how much corporations hold sway on what we see, hear and read when it comes to news, just consider this once more and realize just how much of what was portrayed in “Network” has actually come to pass.

This is one of the memorable exchanges that take place in the film that are too numerous to mention.

Nelson Chaney (older executive, portrayed by Wesley Addy): “All I know is (Frank Hackett’s programming decisions) violates every canon of respectable broadcasting.”

Hackett: “We’re not a respectable network, we’re a whorehouse network. And, we have to take whatever we can get.”

Chaney: “Well, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t fancy myself the president of a whorehouse.”

Hackett: “That’s very commendable of you Nelson. Now, sit down. Your indignation has been duly recorded. If you wish to quit, I’ll accept your resignation.”
And I think this is one of the credos of the film Chayefsky wrote based on the lifetime he spent in the business (spoken/shouted, of course, by Beale):

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. (shouting) You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'
There’s no doubt in my mind; I think Howard Beale would have been one hell of a blogger :-)

Happy Birthday, Gorby!

I’m a day late with this one – sorry.

Yes, I know he never officially renounced Communism, and he also blew it on the Chernobyl disaster, and he’s not very conciliatory to our country these days (can you blame him, really?) and I always wondered about that weird thing on his forehead (I saw a photo of him recently and I think he had it removed or something – I laughed my ass off when Leslie Nielsen wiped it off of the Gorbachev-parody-character’s forehead with a napkin in the first “Naked Gun” movie).

But you know what? Like it did for a lot of other people, it absolutely blew my mind when he got out of his limousine at West 50th Street and Broadway in New York City in December of 1988 to mingle with the crowd (I don’t know if that was staged or not, but it was amazing). And make no mistake – the “walls came tumbling down” in large part because he decided that it was stupid to continue to stand in the way of the Solidarity movement in Poland any longer.

The fact that he became leader of the former Soviet Union, after a procession of men running that country who were quite literally at death’s door most of the time, was something of a miracle. It was a groundbreaking change to see a Soviet leader who was young relative to his predecessors, inquisitive, and receptive to Western style market reforms (how receptive he truly was to democracy is something for historians to debate, I guess). And when he and Reagan engaged in détente, it helped solidify the reputations of both men on the world stage at a time when our 40th president was trying to recover from the Iran-Contra scandal and a dip in his popularity (sadly for Dubya, he will not be able to look forward to a similarly beneficial development).

One regret for me is that he did not lead Russia at a time when Clinton was president, because I think Gorby would have been able to mentor him to some degree. I always got the impression that Clinton was flying over to Russia every few months to prop up Boris Yeltsin, who for me was a mediocre world leader by comparison.

So, considering all of this, I’d like to take a shot and send greetings on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 75th birthday in his native language:

Ot vsey dushi pozdravlyayu i zhelayu vsego nailuchshego!

I hope that was close.

And by the way, I’m reserving judgment on this for now, though it makes sense, unfortunately.

Quid Pro Quo

Despite the effusive praises of some turncoat Dems, Ted Kennedy deliberated thoughtfully about the nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court last year, though he lost out in the end of course.

I would ask that you keep that in mind as I highlight the following passage from this post concerning the high court’s review of the court case over Tom DeLay’s Texas redistricting scam:

In previous cases, the high court has been reluctant to get involved in what is traditionally a political matter played out in state legislatures.

But centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is expected to provide the decisive vote in these cases if they are close, has said there could be a case in which political map drawing gets out of hand, warranting the court's intervention.

Today, however, the justice appeared unpersuaded that the Texas redistricting was egregious enough for the justices to get involved.

But Kennedy said he was concerned about allegations that the Texas map-drawers violated the federal Voting Rights Act by using race to redraw some lines.

In particular, he said several times, removing 100,000 Latino voters from the 23rd District in South Texas and then making sure the district remained 50.9 percent Latino was "an affront and an insult."

But Chief Justice John Roberts asked what percentage of minority voters would be sufficient to deem the district majority minority.

"What's the magic number?" he asked.
“What’s the magic number” indeed, smart guy. The only one I know is 5, for Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Kennedy (at times), and I hope and pray they can all hang on until ’09 at the earliest until a president of at least marginal competence can nominate a successor.

Of course, the de facto leader of the court had to try and upstage Roberts.

"The only reason it was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," justices were told by Paul M. Smith, a Washington lawyer who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the groups challenging the plan.

"That's a surprise," Justice Antonin Scalia quipped. "Legislatures re-draw the map all the time for political reasons."
Yes, they do (God, isn’t Scalia a “laff riot”?). But that shouldn’t be your concern. You should only be ruling on the potential (likely) illegality, not how much this case inconveniences the political party of your friends.

I guess the only reason Scalito didn’t have anything witty to say about this was because it didn’t involve strip searching young girls or joining college organizations to keep minorities off campus.

Yep, I would say that the ideological die is cast concerning the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts. Don’t question your corporate “betters” or those who have better political connections than you do.

A "Shrek" Centennial?

When you read the quote from Amy Shearer, think about the discussion between the big green guy and Donkey in the field on their way to rescue Princess Fiona in the first movie (the talk that has to do with parfait and onions, if you get my drift – a long way to go for a little joke, I know).

Hey, as I pointed out yesterday, I watch A LOT of cartoons.

The important thing, though, is to congratulate Longwood Gardens on its 100th birthday. The place is truly a treasure all year round for anyone in this area lucky enough to patronize it from time to time.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Who's The Looney Tune Here?

So the Parents Television Council disapproves of commercial kids TV, huh?


Gee, that was predictable, wasn’t it? A bunch of “moral values” zealots with their laundry list of complaints that, really, is going to amount to nothing more than red meat for their followers to get angry about for a few minutes before they give up at the hands of some other distraction.

I know a thing or two about this, because I watch A LOT of cartoons at home with the young one (a lot of them make at least as much sense to me as prime-time network fare, and besides, if you can’t laugh at the sublime silliness of “Spongebob Squarepants,” then I think you SERIOUSLY have a problem).

I will actually agree with this study to a point, though, regarding Cartoon Network and their “Toonami” programs, including “Teen Titans.” However, by doing some basic monitoring of some of these shows with him, I believe I can get a pretty good idea of when the content (not just violence, but borderline swearing, references to bodily functions, and other objectionable stuff) goes too far. Besides, the “Toonami” programs are on at pretty consistent times, so you can pretty much guess that “Teen Titans,” for example (though other shows such as “Codename: Kids Next Door” are worse as far as I’m concerned, because they blur the line between silliness and violence) will be on every Saturday night at 8:00 EST, so it can be avoided if you wish to do so (and I don’t think it’s even THAT BAD of a show…it’s dark at times, but if a kid can watch a well-made but scary movie like “Revenge Of The Sith,” they can certainly watch that show – by the way, why don’t these moralists ever review movies anyway, not that I’d pay attention much to their comments on that either.)

However, I’d like to discuss something that this study doesn’t even consider, and that is what I would call the “brattiness” factor (i.e., smart-mouthed or narcissistic kids often trying to act like adults). I have AT LEAST as much of a problem with that as I do with violence or other content, because it is a lot easier for kids to imitate that kind of behavior. I have to admit that Nickelodeon is pretty good on that score, though “The Amanda Show” is easily the biggest offender in that category, but it’s supposed to be kids entertainment; other shows such as “Romeo” have kids doing things they shouldn’t some times, but they ALWAYS portray the consequences of their actions. Cartoon Network isn’t even that bad on that score either, nor is ABC Family.

One of the worst offenders under this category, though, is Disney. I don’t know who writes, produces, or otherwise creates most of their programming (not talking about anything related to their movies, most of which are wonderful), but they must be people without kids, or else they’d realize immediately what it is that they’re doing wrong, such as an adaptation of the kids story "The Rainbow Fish" that almost made me put my fist through the T.V.

And here’s another thing (good and steamed now…I know); Fox Television has kids programming also, distributed to their affiliate networks, as mentioned in the study. Fox is EASILY THE WORST OFFENDER ON THIS LIST when it comes to violence and bratty kid behavior portrayed on TV, as well as putting the kids in adult conflict situations where they don’t belong. To me, they treat the kids as little adults, which I guess is logical in a way since their adult programming is, in many ways, little more than a grownup version of the same thing (a dramatization of R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" that I saw once was particularly odious).

Though I certainly don’t approve of the putdown language the group mentions, it’s kind of a “chicken and the egg” argument between television and the fact that kids, frequently as a necessity, end up in day care at an age way before that which I entered school, for example (in “the stone age,” I’ll admit) and are thus exposed to these negative behaviors earlier. To restate this, how much of the TV and media content is a reflection of the behavior and attitudes the kids would have already even if no media existed?

This survey did not look at PBS apparently, which is a good thing, because, as far as I’m concerned, you will NEVER find a bad PBS kids program. And if Bozell and his fellow Philistines REALLY care about the quality of kids TV, they can make sure the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is PROPERLY FUNDED to continue developing programming that appeals to ALL AUDIENCES, PARTICULARLY KIDS, and also STOP THIS IDIOTIC DEMONIZING OF PEOPLE YOU DON’T LIKE ON PBS AND GIVE KIDS CREDIT FOR BEING SMART ENOUGH TO CHOOSE WHAT PROGRAMS THEY LIKE ON THAT NETWORK!

And for the record, I think the seven-second tape delay for the Super Bowl is an absolutely ridiculous idea, and I will always believe that the exposure of Janet Jackson’s 40-year-old, diamond-studded, African American boob was deliberate to get the “moral values” crowd good and steamed to kick off a presidential election year.

His Aim Hasn't Improved

As a follow up to SusanG's great post at The Daily Kos, I would only add this link back to a post from last year which provides some background on the clueless arrogance of Bushco regarding the workforce of this country.

It seems that Dick has gone from shooting 78-year-old lawyers in the face to shooting himself in the foot (not that I actually thought anything he ever said wasn't a total lie or had any credibility anyway).

Update: I know you know what Krugman says here already, you crook, but register and read it anyway!

Not Obtuse to Honor Seuss

To honor Theodor Seuss Geisel on his birthday (or attempt to anyway), I wish to present my post on recent developments in the pending sale of Knight Ridder Newspapers in a manner worthy of the pride of Springfield, MA (though I'm sure he would do it much better):

Don’t frown, because it’s not absurd
Knight Ridder’s sale will be assured
Media News would never “pan it”
Even if they’re outbid by Gannett
McCorkindale still might bail – beware
If the asking price is $70 per share
But at $66, it will begin
To look good to Dean Singleton
The Media News chief’s on his way
To Contra Costa, San Jose
After last week, stopping by
Via private jet to PNI
Though he looks good, it’s all a “stall”
Without venture capital
This “good egg” might be worth “nesting”
With KR’s board (two-thirds) suggesting
But no further plans look “hatchy”:
No “white knight” offer from McClatchy
The “big boys” won’t be in the throes
Of health care, pension, union “woes”
So all prepare for rude design
Adhering to that “bottom line”
One day’s pay for three days’ work
Corporate dicta gone berserk
Though all are quiet, lest they swoon
Just like the Fourth of Polk Laffoon
(a real name, by the way…)
Let’s pray the papers do survive
“Afflict those comforted,” and thrive
But if not, say “This ain’t ‘the bomb’”
And go check out
This also links to some excellent reporting on the sale and related background by Lou Alexander.

Update 3/9: Regarding Dr. Seuss, this should have appeared about a week earlier.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Glub, Glub, Andy?

It's not a good sign when any politician goes negative (unless you're talking about Dubya of course, who never strays from that path anyway), but in the 8th District U.S. Congressional Race in PA, I think it's telling that Andy Warren has gone that route, as described in this editorial from the nearby Daily Intelligencer (from "he who does not wish a hat tip" - many thanks...).

(I said I would take it easy on Warren a little while back, and I'll try to stick to that, but I can't promise anything.)

Who's the Opportunist?
Warren should choose his accusations more carefully.

There will be no shortage of political fireworks this election year, and the race in the 8 th Congressional District between Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick and an as yet unknown Democratic challenger should be especially interesting. As if to prime voters for the fall main event, the three Democrats vying for their party's nomination are getting in some sparring among themselves in the run-up to the May Primary.

The latest jab has been thrown by former Bucks County Republican Commissioner Andy Warren, who's trying to make an issue of opponent Patrick Murphy's so-called indecision about whether to run for Congress from the 8 th District or the neighboring 13th.

In 2004, Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, did a profile on Murphy, who at the time was an Army captain just back from a tour of duty in Iraq and working to drum up support among veterans for presidential hopeful John Kerry. In the article, Murphy said Democratic Party officials had approached him to run for Congress in one of the two districts depending on the outcome of the 2004 elections. Allyson Schwartz won in the 13 th, Murphy moved to New Hope and later to Bristol Township.

Warren sees a problem with that. About Murphy, Warren said, "He's been presenting himself as a longtime Bucks Countian…but that's opportunistic, because he's not…If he's just using Bucks County for his own political gain, then that's really unfortunate."

We see several problems with Warren's thinking. First, thought Murphy grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, that part of the city is included in the 8 th Congressional District. Second, Murphy says he spent a lot of time in Bucks as a kid playing sports and such. Third, his absence from the county during his military service can hardly be criticized by anyone.

Finally, Warren certainly knows something of which he speaks when he talks about political opportunism. It was Andy Warren, the longtime Republican, who last year switched political parties so he could run for Congress as a Democrat—there being virtually no chance of his running successfully as a FOP candidate. Changing parties to run for office is about as politically opportunistic as you can get.

The Bucks County Democratic Committee, which could hand out an endorsement this weekend, apparently is satisfied with Murphy's background and ties to the county. Fred Viskovich, who along with Warren and Murphy is hoping to get the Democratic nomination said where Murphy lived before and what he was thinking over a year ago about running is hardly a big deal and correctly pointed out that there are far more pressing matters confronting America.

Only Warren seems interested in creating an issue where there is none. We think it would be a good idea if he looked after handling his own political baggage, which in this case is weightier than anything Murphy is carrying.
By the way, I should point out that Warren has definitely upgraded his web site, and it actually looks kind of sharp. However, it's a shame that you can only go back to the home page whenever you click on a hyperlink (sorry - my usability alter-ego coming through on that one).

I will merely provide a link to this excellent post from Above Average Jane (which also appears in the right column) which is a thorough listing of Warren's cantankerous behavior and evasions regarding his party affiliations (and I didn't know this, but I learned from Jane's post that Ginny Schrader had switched parties also).

I would only ask that Warren take what I would call the "Lynn Swann test" and see if he passes; by that I mean can he sit down and talk with families or small groups about what legislation he would promote or oppose to aid working men and women, children, and families on issue such as the environment, jobs, schools, taxes, and security against the threat of terrorism (being partly German, I'm really leery about using the word "homeland" in that context).

If Warren can only fall back on the usual tired bromides without anything thoughtful or interesting to say, then he should quit now. And the fact that he is dumping on Patrick Murphy on the supposed question of whether or not Murphy is a citizen of Bucks County and any possible discrepancies in Murphy's voting record (gee, how dare Patrick actually enlist in the Army to serve our country in Iraq...what was he thinking anyway?) gives me a hint that Warren's exit (with Ginny Schrader in tow) is coming sooner than later.

Update 3/2: The Bucks County Courier Times agreed with the Intelligencer in an editorial today. I'd try to link to what the paper said, but the web site of the Courier Times is misbehaving in an extreme way today.

Fear Strikes Out

I guess this should be about former Red Sox player Jim Piersall, the subject of a book and movie with the title of this post. However, this is about another former ballplayer named Jim who, unlike Piersall, should seek treatment for his affliction.

As noted here, Kentucky Repug Jim Bunning “melted down” a couple of times during his closer-than-expected Senate campaign in 2004. He didn’t do much better today with his comment, upon likely Senate passage of the so-called Patriot Act despite the brave, valiant opposition of Russ Feingold, that “civil liberties don’t mean much when you're dead.”

The only thing more pathetic than Bunning’s presence in the Senate is the fact that those glorious red-state Kentucky voters returned him anyway for more of this nonsense, which is a case of just desserts for those who wasted their vote on Bunning two years ago.

Oh, and that perfect game Bunning pitched for the Phillies on Father’s Day in 1964 is a sterling accomplishment that he has hopelessly tarnished by his childish demagoguery.

"Real Time" Highlights

The show started with Bill Maher as “Phil” from “The International House Of Flammable Flags”…”You’re at a protest and you just can’t get your flag to burn? Our flags come with a patented 'Tru-Burn' technology, for easy lighting. Perfect for jihads, free trade riots, or birthday parties. Check out our ‘Double-Sided Infidel’ flag (U.S. on one side, Israel on the other) for our friends in the Middle East.”

From the monologue: “Sorry I’m late: Bush sold the freeway to the Arabs, and somebody blew up the 405.” Also, Maher said that the proposed port sale must be part of a new strategy, namely, “to fight them here so we don’t have to fight them there.” Bush also apparently said, according to Maher, that “if this deal doesn’t go through, it will be a slap in the face to the Arabs. That’s ironic considering that we have four guys at Guantanamo whose specific job is to slap Arabs in the face." Maher also said, “Bush is furious about civil war in Iraq, reportedly saying ‘How dare you start a war in the middle of our war’.” The news from Iraq was so bad that Bush told Cheney “to go hunting again.” Also, the Sunnis blew up a holy Shiite mosque, but Maher said it could have been worse; “they could have drawn a cartoon of it.” Also, upon hearing of sectarian violence in Iraq, Bush “immediately called for an invasion of Sectaria.” Bush then tried to speak to Iraqis in their native language, saying “Can’t we all just get Allah?” (ba-dump).

Update 3/1: Yep, I guess all of that carnage and destruction is "made up" by the media also, isn't it, Neil?

The first guest was New Mexico Republican House Representative Heather Wilson, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee (short name), who said that the DP World controversy was “a terrible failure of communication, and Congress will review” (I would say so also). Maher then asked, “What would have happened if John Kerry had said in the 2004 presidential debate (that he would have allowed this),” and Wilson laughed a bit over that, acknowledging the obvious in the process. Maher pointed out that Wilson was against the NSA spying also, making a joke by saying that “Bush said the 1978 law is out of date, and my 1978 phone is out of date also,” implying that he might go along with Bush on changing the law to a point. Wilson said that she “didn’t want these ‘powerful tools’ (re: the FISA law) to be used improperly against citizens.” Maher then pointed out that Wilson “voted against the 9/11 Commission and investigating into Abu Ghraib,” and Wilson said that she thought both of those incidents should have been part of “regular Congressional oversight” (how conveee-nient for a bunch of Repugs to feel that away). Maher said, “it’s easy to be sanguine when you don’t have to worry about getting blown up,” and Wilson said (coming back to FISA again) “there are good, talented people (in the NSA), but Congress has to do oversight on this program like all others.”

The panel discussion began with Irshad Manji, an Islamist writer who appeared to be pretty open minded and a friendly guest (I didn’t know who she was at first, so I was automatically suspicious), actor and activist Danny Glover, and former senator Gary Hart (man, did HE get old!). Regarding the DP World deal, Maher asked “What happened to ‘Everything changed after 9/11”? Why are we suddenly treating other countries as if they are the same (as before the attacks)? Glover said, “We’ve been politicizing people for a long time, and businesses approve of it, getting the message out that governments are being undermined because of foreign ownership.” Maher then asked, “Suppose we let DP World take over Bush’s Secret Service detail, and tell him to hope that that ticking sound is only Dick Cheney’s pacemaker? Who’s kidding who here?” which drew applause. Gary Hart then added quietly, “all Arabs aren’t bad people,” and Maher said, “But some of them want to kill us. What about three years down the road? Won’t it be easier to infiltrate our ports then?” and Glover said, “The union workers run the ports,” but Manji said, “all it takes is one guy.” Hart pointed out that this was tied to our oil dependency (true) and “they can put a nuclear weapon in any container, since only 5 percent of the containers are inspected” (how nice). Manji then asked “Do you want to tempt fate?" and Maher said, “we are already.” Glover reminded everyone that “we supported the Taliban,” but Maher said, “That was years ago. We’ve changed,” with a perfectly deadpan expression.

(By the way, there was no apology, faux or otherwise, from Maher because a conservative was missing from the panel. That was fine with me after having to put up with both Dan Senor and Fred Barnes last week.)

Maher said, “I love being a First Amendment martyr,” but then turned that around a bit when he led into the discussion of Larry Summers (I know I got into that a bit Monday and yesterday, and I confess that I was motivated to do that after watching this show). Maher then pointed out that Larry Summers said there might be a biological reason why men often do better at math than women, pointing out that Summers admitted the topic was up for debate, “but Harvard believed that Summers was the problem.” Danny Glover said, “it’s interesting that, when he questioned Cornel West, nobody said that he was a racist.” Maher said that he thought a lot of colleges “are in the stranglehold of a radical left,” which I think is way too strong of a characterization (Manji said, “you seldom hear about ‘the ideological left’). Maher quickly backed up his “stranglehold” comment by saying that, “For example, at Brown University, you can’t have sex with a woman who’s drunk or it automatically is rape. At Smith University, a bastion of lesbianism, I spoke to some straight kids with tears in their eyes because of abuse they’d received because they hadn’t seen the last episode of ‘Ellen’” (at this point, I thought “you’ve got to be kidding,” wondering if Maher wasn’t trying to make up for the panel’s left imbalance after all). Danny Glover asked, “What exactly is the left?” and Gary Hart said, “Doctrinaire, special interest turf isn’t left or right,” an interesting though cryptic comment (Hart’s demeanor seems to have changed into that of a slightly hip college professor, which I guess was appropriate for the subject matter). Remaining somewhat on the topic of academia gone nuts, Maher discussed David Irving, the British historian and Holocaust denier who is in jail, and said, “Should we be jailing people for an opinion like this and lecturing Muslims about a cartoon?” and Manji pointed out that the mayor of London has been forced to resign temporarily because he compared a Jewish reporter to a Nazi prison guard, to which Maher said in mock exasperation, “can’t we all just get along?”

The next topic led into a comedy bit (playing on something Maher originally discussed with Heather Wilson earlier) about a church in New Mexico that uses hallucinogenic tea in an attempt to communicate with God, and Maher said, “I’m sure you don’t need the tea to do that…but why take chances?” Maher displayed some mock church slogans appearing on the marquee in front of the building, and the one I liked was “Never rob Peter to pay Cheech.” Maher also noted that, "This was such a tough one for the Bush Administration, because on the one hand, they love anything to do with Jesus and religion. On the other hand, they hate any drug that doesn't put money in the pockets of Pfizer."

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof then appeared via satellite to talk about Darfur, with Maher chiding him a bit saying, “You won’t get off Darfur. Good,” asking why “genocide doesn’t get more attention.” Kristof said, “We in the media allow that to happen,” mentioning how much time the newscasts give to that versus stories of much “greater” import, such as Anna Nicole Smith’s Supreme Court case and Britney Spears’ driving adventures with her baby. Maher said, “Why don’t we just bomb the ‘janjaweed’,” (who apparently are the tribe or gang – or both – responsible for the atrocities), and Kristof said, “there are a lot of things we can do short of that. It would be great to have a no-fly zone, for example.” Maher then said to Kristof, “You raised a million dollars to get Bill O’Reilly to Darfur” (as a response to some dumb remark, no doubt), and Kristof said, “We offered to take him there, but he said he couldn’t do his work there, even though we also offered to set up a phone link for him,” with Maher asking, “How much would it cost to keep him there?,” which drew some hoots (though Maher had trouble with the audience on a couple of borderline jokes). Kristof immediately said, “The people of Darfur have suffered enough.” Maher then asked Kristof, “Is there any going back on Iraq,” and Kristof said, “We can leave immediately, in which case there will be total chaos, or we could stick to it grimly and have gradual chaos, or we could set up a timetable to try and reduce the nationalism that’s deadly to our soldiers” (amen).

Maher asked the panel what they thought could be done about the Darfur crisis, and Danny Glover said to “empower the African Union.” Gary Hart said, “we’re still carrying the burden of Somalia – Clinton said the worst mistake we made was not to intervene in Rwanda, but then when we went into Somalia, that led to the ‘Blackhawk Down’ incident. Maher, returning to Iraq, noted that Condoleezza Rice said that, “people who don’t want the political process to work intervene in the 11th hour,” with Maher wondering what made Rice think the wave of Sunni/Shiite violence had only started recently. Irshad Manji said, “The mosque bombing is more problematic,” noting the shrine’s religious significance (as explained in this Washington Post story). She added that, “the violence is truly apocalyptic, and this plays into the hands of Iran. The Shiites in Iraq may think they can only rely on their fellow Shia in Iran, who have nukes,” and I’m suddenly realizing as I hear this that what passes for a discussion in this country about Iraq shouldn’t be whether or not civil war is taking place, but to acknowledge the reality and find some way to bring everyone to the table and NOT blow themselves to kingdom come (and our service people are stuck right in the middle…dear God).

Maher also said, “When everyone was saying that the world was better off without Saddam Hussein, I said no. Saddam knew how to hold that country together” (which, at the risk of patting myself on the back, is something I’d been saying for about…oh, I don’t know…MAYBE FOREVER??!! – I can also recall Maher telling Richard Perle that, as much as he disagreed with the war, he would give the neocons credit if they managed to build a democracy in Iraq; I don’t think Maher has to worry about following through on that now or ever at this point). Hart continued by pointing out that “Hussein pacified a volatile nation, and we missed the opportunity for an orderly exist strategy.” Maher concluded by asking, “Can the Democrats run on the platform of ‘the Republicans lost the war’?” and Gary Hart said “no, because a lot of them supported it” (all too true, unfortunately).

Returning to New Orleans after Katrina, Maher asked, “should we NOT rebuild?” and Hart said, “it’s a major port – we don’t have a choice.” Danny Glover added that, “enormous wealth has been created over time – when it comes back, what will the schools and infrastructure be like and who will make the money” (my answer, as Brendan noted some time ago: “Mandalay Bay, New Orleans!”). Irshad Manji said, “I’d feel better about the rebuilding effort if the government stayed out of it,” a comment that led me to believe that maybe she is more conservative than she led on. Maher then asked, “Should they have Mardi Gras?” and Glover said, “Yes. The French Quarter is booming” (good news), and Manji said, “it would be earning money in a dignified manner as opposed to a handout,” which to me was a funny quote because I don’t think ANYTHING in New Orleans is done (few things, anyway) in a “dignified manner,” which to me is part of its charm. Maher asked the $64 K question, which is “where did all of the (reconstruction) money go,” and no one knew for certain (nor do I think anyone ever will). Glover said, “Go to Bay City – some of those people are desperate, such as the hotel workers and service people making $7 an hour, and many of them will be working on Mardi Gras.” Maher then said, “it reminds me of Atlantic City…the casinos built expensive hotels and ignored poor people” (I can personally vouch for the truth of that statement). At that point, it was time for “New Rules”.

Everyone on the show pretty much got along fine without any dustups, even during the segment with Rep. Heather Wilson earlier, who was a good sport. Though this can lead to boring television, it was nice to relax and witness a discussion among people in the “reality-based community” where I could actually learn a thing or two.

A Matrix Revolution?

I was really glad to see that Zack Rubin responded to this because I failed to do so a few days ago (really local PA politics again – this letter to the editor appeared in this morning’s Bucks County Courier Times)…

As a member of the Residents Against Matrix executive board, I take strong exception with the Feb. 18th “Thumbs Down” to Lower Makefield Supervisor Chairman Steve Santarsiero. Your paper suggested that Santarsiero is preventing public comment on a “secret plan” concerning the 186-acre development known as the Octagon Center.

This could not be further from the truth. The current negotiations have been taking place among representatives of the township, RAM, and the Matrix Development Corp. This is the result of a lawsuit filed by RAM to prevent the building of 30,000 square feet of big-box retail stores with a million square feet of asphalt parking lots.

Since RAM sued the township (actually the former board of supervisors whom the voters have now replaced with new ones) and Matrix, all parties involved in the legal dispute agreed to settle the matter amicably. By legal precedent, these negotiations are not conducted in public. Through give and take, tough compromises have been achieved.

RAM’s lawyer advised the executive board not to sign on any agreement until the wording has been finalized. RAM and the township negotiators thought this would have been done by the Feb. 15th supervisors meeting. That is why Santarsiero placed the agreement on the agenda.

At that meeting, there would have been plenty of time allotted for public discussion. Unfortunately, RAM and the township were not fully satisfied that all outstanding matters were resolved. That is why the agenda item was postponed.

RAM has been fighting for five and a half years to see responsible development on the largest tract of undeveloped land in Lower Makefield. We have always stood for community input and open government.

To characterize Santarsiero’s action of postponing an agenda item for two weeks so that a final plan could be presented to the public for a fair and open discussion as “quickly forgetting what he once stood for” is not only inaccurate but unfair.

Zachary Rubin
Lower Makefield
The Courier Times printed the following addendum to the letter.

Editor’s note: The editorial criticized Santarsiero for refusing to explain what negotiating point remains unresolved, and it encouraged public comment before the supervisors vote on whatever agreement has been developed in secret.
“In secret,” huh? What a bullshit disclaimer that is! (sorry for the bad word, boys and girls, but that’s the only one that is appropriate).

I’ve heard some things about this myself, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into all of it because the whole Matrix issue is, in large part, a legal matter (as Rubin stated above). What I will only say is that there is still some discussion going on between Belle Meade, the owner of the property where the proposed Octagon Center would be built, and Matrix Corporation, since there may be some question as to whether or not Belle Meade has actually sold the property yet (but don’t quote me on that…that’s very unofficial, but I have heard it from a couple of people “in the know”). As I said, this is still a legal matter, so there are things Santarsiero wouldn’t be able to say anyway before the plan was finalized and THEN presented for public comment (I would expect a paper even as provincial as the Bucks County Courier Times to understand that).

Update 3/2: A story appeared in the Courier Times today that confirms this and more - can't find a link from the awful phillyburbs site...God, either do it right or don't do it at all!

Oh, and Steve has SUCH A HISTORY of acting in secret, doesn’t he? Who was the one who proposed the idea and fought to have the township supervisor meetings televised on the Lower Makefield public access channel with Comcast’s cooperation (and who fought him on it)? Who was the one who challenged the township on whether or not the newly-built golf course would actually be self-sustaining at some point (it seems to be achieving that goal, to be fair, though I haven’t read anything recently on that)? There are probably other examples of Steve’s “secret” governance that I could find, and if I manage to do that, I’ll update this post.

Kudos in reverse to the Courier Times on this one; they do good work at times, but certainly not on this occasion (if you’re a Democrat, you’d better walk on water or they’ll try to carve you up).

Welcome To Carter Country

(Another dated reference, I know…sorry.)

I actually was going to give this idiot a break today despite the fact that his approval rating has sunk to 34 percent, which is the lowest that I can ever remember for any president in years and apparently an all-time low for him, though, according to the information from this link, it parallels that of Jimmy Carter prior to his electoral defeat by Ronald Reagan in November 1980.

For this supposed “man of faith” to even think of claiming that bin Laden helped him defeat Kerry in the 2004 presidential election is a grotesque insult to the families, friends, and loved ones of the 9/11 victims (which, to one degree or another, is composed of the vast majority of the people of this country). However, I will actually take it easy on him a bit for this, though I’m not sure why; possibly because it would be utterly exhausting to respond to every STOO-PID thing Dubya said and did (and also because Dubya apparently did not say this recently, but in the midst of the 2004 election).

By the way, as long as the red-state president is going to be hosting Prime Minister Jesus today (had some fun with him in the past, I know), it might be a good idea to address this topic.

Update 3/3: I’m glad you feel this way Dubya because, since you are supposed to represent us in accordance with the Constitution that you swore to protect and defend, we reserved the right to contract your job offshore to save on your salary and benefits. With that in mind, you will soon be expected to transition your duties to Tithraj Joshi, the new president of the United States! Tithraj will be joining us from Pune on Monday morning, at which time we’ll officially accept your resignation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An Inconsistency

Believe me that I wouldn’t be linking to a column by Suzanne Fields unless I had a good reason, and I believe that I do.

She weighed in today on the departure of Larry Summers as president of Harvard University, and I know I said something about that yesterday (she does so with the requisite amount of right-wing smarminess, of course). I’m bringing this up again because I forgot to mention that one of the episodes that got Summers in hot water with some faculty was his refusal to divest the university from investments in Israel, despite a petition requesting that the school do so signed by 69 university professors.

So basically, this is the third thing that I think Summers got right for which he was roundly pilloried. I see now.

Well, along comes the news today that D.P. World, which of course would be responsible for operations at six U.S. ports, has effectively done the same thing that the professors at Harvard requested.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for this to bring Dubya’s port deal to a screeching halt, by the way (which would actually be in accordance with other right-wing dodges, as Green Greenwald notes so astutely here).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Columnist, Heal Thyself

Wow, has Dick Polman of the Inquirer fallen off a cliff (figuratively speaking, of course) or what?

Here are Polman's sources for this analysis of "Bush's Bubble" today:

- Jack Pitney, a former national GOP official and Capitol Hill aide
- Rich Galen, a Republican strategist and "staunch Bush defender"
- Reuel Marc Gerecht, a "think-tank hawk" in Washington
- Historian Robert Dallek who wrote a two-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson (OK, a token nod towards objectivity...I'll give you that one)
- Jay Homnick, a conservative commentator who described Bush's famous (?) "obstinacy" on the web site for The American Spectator, which is the closest thing you'll find to a negative comment about Dubya on about half a newspaper page of copy
- David Gergen, a conservative who I actually will listen to or read from time to time because, even though I usually disagree with him, I think he's a smart and erudite guy (who suggests that Bush seek counsel from "amenable Democrats" - another phrase for Joe Lieberman or possibly Bill Nelson)
- Bruce Buchanan, a "veteran Bush watcher" at the University of Texas
- A quote from a Karl Rove interview on FOX television (where else, I ask myself?)
I guess it's not worth the trouble to seriously consider interviewing a Democratic political leader unless you're going to write another screed about how divided they perpetually are, right?

I'm not going to bother with commenting on the "inside the Repug party" B.S. which comprises just about the entire piece. I will wonder, though, what kind of chutzpah it takes on Polman's part to concoct this stuff without even giving a passing acknowledgement to the fact that we have A DANGEROUSLY OUT-OF-TOUCH FUNDAMENTALIST NUT JOB AS OUR PRESIDENT, and GEE, MAYBE THAT'S A BAD THING FOR THE COUNTRY!!

Also, Polman cites Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon as presidential precedents for his "bubble" thesis, which to me is like comparing apples to oranges to blueberries. I find myself in the odd position of, for the second time in a week, defending the 28th President of the United States by pointing out that he was indeed shielded by his wife (Edith Bolling Gault) near the end of his presidency because he had been severely incapacitated by a stroke, and I would also like to point out that, along with the fact that Nixon was a naval veteran who had at least served our country (unlike Dubya and practically all of the other Repugs running our government), both of Lyndon Johnson's sons-in-law served in the Vietnam War (from "The Vantage Point"). I would say that that provides some context that you aren't likely to find in any of Polman's recent work.

I think someone else needs to "break out of a bubble" besides Dubya, but I don't think that is likely to happen either.

More Than Just "McCloud"

I had no idea that Dennis Weaver was so innovative at recycling (and his role that I remember the most actually was the totally creeped-out hotel clerk terrorized by the gang of Mexican toughs who were going to scare Janet Leigh in “A Touch Of Evil"). And of course, he was amazing in "Duel" also (a movie that launched another famous career also).

Ivy-Covered Intolerance

I decry as much right-wing nonsense as I can at this site, as anyone who has taken the time to stop by knows full well, but from time to time I have to call it the way I see it and take a shot at people who in aggregate lean politically the same way I do but can act brainless at times also. I almost expect the right wing knuckle draggers to be intolerant as a reflex, but it really gets me when I see people acting like that who are supposed to be smart enough to know better (and in the process, the latter group provides grist for the former).

This brings us to departing Harvard University president Larry Summers.

Summers, former Clinton Administration treasury secretary, resigned last week as president of Harvard University after serving a term of only five years. As nearly as I have been able to figure out from my admittedly limited research into this (having a hard time separating the “wheat” from the “chaff”), Summers’ biggest crimes were to question the activities of acclaimed black studies professor Cornel West, including West’s participation in development of a CD with a rap group, which eventually led to West’s departure for Princeton, and Summers' now-infamous comment that women were “underrepresented in professional life” possibly because of “upbringing, genetics, or child rearing,” as well as his thoughts that women might (with an emphasis on “might”) not be better at math or science than men.

I think this paragraph from a related Washington Post story is pivotal.

In his remarks...Summers pointed to research showing that girls are less likely to score top marks than boys in standardized math and science tests, even though the median scores of both sexes are comparable. He said yesterday that he did not offer any conclusion for why this should be so but merely suggested a number of possible hypotheses.
Gee, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at a college; suggest hypotheses? I mean, that’s exactly the type of critical thought that these people who espouse “creationism” or “intelligent design” (which are both the same thing) are trying to abolish, isn’t it?

Before I say another word, though, I should point out that I think Summers is utterly wrong to suggest that men could be (or are) better at math or science than women. I’ve worked with highly skilled computer development professionals for a long time, and if I were to do an analysis, I would probably find slightly more men in the field than women, but not by much. And believe me – if you’re writing object-oriented computer code, you had BETTER know math.

I’ve attached links to two Inquirer opinion columns on Summers that were published today. The first is from Bonnie Squires, a communications consultant in Wynnewood who, as far as I’m concerned, needs to get a grip in a major way. The second is from a Harvard student named Daniel Ross-Rieder who, though overly sarcastic also, makes some points in Summers’ defense.

As much as it is good sport for lefties to watch the Repugs flailing away at Dubya over the NSA spying and Dubai Port World fiascoes, it is also good sport for the hardcore right, unfortunately, to watch the mayhem at Harvard over all of this (with these two guys who apparently are Repug sympathizers continuing to stir the pot).

I would only ask that all concerned cut some slack to the new president of Harvard in light of all of this, whoever he or she or it may be, and try listening and thinking a little bit more instead of trying to out-screech each other.

He Needs An Elephant's Memory

(the name of Chuck Berry’s backup/tour band in the late 60s, for any rock trivia aficionados…)

Inquirer metro columnist John Grogan’s topic today is Marianne Bessey, an animal rights activist who has been bugging the Philadelphia Zoo to release its elephants from captivity. Bessey is knowledgeable in her subject matter, having studied elephants and traveled to Zimbabwe to watch them in their habitat, as Grogan mentions.

This portion of Grogan’s column describes what’s at the basis of Bessey’s disagreement with the zoo:

Last year she began badgering zoo officials to release the four elephants to the sanctuary where they could live closer to how nature intended. So far, the idea has gone nowhere.

She's particularly frustrated over the fate of Dulary, a 42-year-old female with an injury that has kept her inside a concrete barn since August.

"It's like putting your child in a closet for the rest of their life," she said.

As her frustration grew, she posted a message earlier this month on an online chat room known as the Elephant Connection. In it, she wished that Philadelphia Zoo Director Alexander L. "Pete" Hoskins might experience what it would be like to be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten [his] demise."

"My frustration just boiled over," she said.

What she didn't know was that zoo officials were monitoring the chat room (your donor dollars at work), and they filed a police complaint against her, apparently on the theory that her comments were not-quite-but-almost-sort-of a little like a death threat.

A threat, but to what?

Now, we can't have death-threatening eco-terrorists at a family attraction, right? And so the activist was banned from zoo property.

Remind me again who's acting with extreme hysteria?
Wait a minute.

The zoo files a complaint against Bessey – a lawyer who should know the consequences of threatening someone’s life, especially in written form…and yes, that is DEFINITELY what she did – but THEY are acting with extreme hysteria?

Hey, I’ve been to the Zoo and seen the elephants also. Yes, they are proud, majestic creatures. Yes, they probably should be allowed to “roam free” (which begs the question of where, exactly: Belmont Plateau? Valley Forge National Park? Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies' home opener?). But does the fact that they’re in captivity merit a death threat against the director of the Philadelphia Zoo?

Besides, suppose the zoo knew of what Bessey said but ignored it, and then she shows up one day, flips out, and starts shooting the animals and paying customers? Yes, I know that’s a very unlikely scenario, but if I were running a non-profit institution with the high profile of The Philadelphia Zoo, you’d better believe that I would be thinking about that if I heard about what Bessey said. I don’t see that “Pete” Hoskins, the Zoo’s director, was out of line at all to ban Bessey from zoo property.

And here’s another thing for Grogan to consider; he went ballistic months ago against PA State Representative Daylin Leach over some off-color comments at Leach’s blog, as we may remember. Where is the same sense of outrage over Bessey’s remarks? Go ahead and kill someone, but just don’t make juvenile comments about their sexuality, right?

(Note: This doesn't link to Grogan's column but the original Inquirer news story instead - at the time, I didn't link to Grogan's original column because you had to register, but I realized later that I couldn't keep doing that.)

Instead of looking into the “deep, knowing eyes” of the Philadelphia Zoo’s elephants, I think Grogan ought to take a deep, knowing look at himself in the mirror and see if he detects the same trunk full of hypocrisy that I do.

Update 10/06/06: In additon to this development, the Asian elephant Dulary will be moved to a sanctuary in Tennessee (can't find a link yet).

Update 03/06/07: According to this report, the elephants will be moved by June.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The House I Live In

As long as Bob Casey Jr. has gone to the trouble to show signs of life, I feel that I should say something on his behalf.

Apparently, the august Philadelphia "newspaper of record" on North Broad Street thinks the whole home mortgage controversy between Casey and Santorum is one big joke (though I will grant that there are many more issues of greater importance, such as Santorum's significant role in the "K" Street project). However, I'd like to point out some things about this story which, apparently, aren't of importance to the Inquirer while they continue to tilt to the right (they'd better hope and pray nothing happens to Trudy Rubin since, with the departure of Jane Eisner, every other editorial feature writer on the paper whose work they publish these days is nothing but a right-wing shill).

As noted in this Inquirer story by Carrie Budoff, the mortgage amount in question for Santorum's home was $500,000 for a property with an estimated value of $643,000 (WAY too rich for my blood, of course).

However, as noted in this story in the Bucks County Courier Times (from Kimberly Hefling of the AP, and yes there actually IS a story may have to scroll WAY down for it), Casey's mortgage is for $120,000 for a home with an estimated value of $92,000 (a lot closer to my price range - and by the way, how clever of the AP to not mention the amount of Santorum's mortgage as opposed to Casey's).

What gets me the most about this is that everyone overlooks the following facts: Casey's primary residence is in Scranton, Pa., and Santorum's is in Leesburg, Va. How much do you want to think the "liberal media" would be screaming if those locations were reversed?

Update: I didn't know Atrios and the blogger Suburban Guerilla were already on this, but I shouldn't have been surprised.