Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Videos

The Hold Steady ("Chips Ahoy!" - overdue for this one)...



...Happy belated birthday to drummer Ian Paice of Deep Purple ("Highway Star"; surely an inspiration for Spinal Tap here)...



...Happy Birthday also to Philadelphia's own bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke (performing "My Greatest Hits" with drummer Steve Gadd - love the title)...



..and Happy 90th birthday to the one and only Lena Horne ("How Do You Do" with Grover of "Sesame Street" from 1973 - God bless her).

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Videos

The Fiery Furnaces ("Benton Harbor Blues")...



...time to visit the '80s with Martha and the Muffins ("Echo Beach" - hey, it's summer, OK?)...



...and I forgot Patty Smyth of Scandal earlier this week ("Hands Tied")...



...and Happy Birthday to Colin Hay of Men At Work ("It's A Mistake"; I once saw them open for Fleetwood Mac at the Spectrum in '83 I believe before they received saturation airplay on MTV, and no one knew who they were and they received tepid applause and were actually booed - Hay responded by flipping off the audience and ending the band's set after about a half hour. I was mad at the time, but looking back on it, I think it's funny now; also, I just like this song, and I really don't mean this as a message for what started on 3/19/03)...

He's Still The One

I know this is a real "11th hour" kind of thing, but please take a look at this message for John Hall.

And here's more from when he ran for the U.S. Congress from New York last year, getting some help from that Clinton guy.

Two Logical Career Paths

And in world news, it turns out that India is trying to find someone for a new ad campaign aimed at using methods to protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases (protruding into a new promotion, if you will).

I would like to help out by nominating this person as “Mr. Condom.” I mean, he’s been out of the headlines for a few months, so maybe this will give him something to do (I know there is nothing in his bio denoting Indian ancestry, but is that a "deal-breaker" here?).

And while the Indian government is at it, maybe they could make sure they've covered both sides here and nominate this person as “Ms. Diaphragm.” I’m sure she has time on her hands since she just got out of jail (maybe even the predisposition to do something constructive, or is that too much to ask?), and maybe if she were to relocate halfway around the globe, it would make it harder for her to appear on my tee vee and computer screen every stinking time I turn on either one of them.

Brian’s Stinky Inky Birthday Bash

Has it been only a year since Bruce Toll, Brian Tierney and Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C. took over the Philadelphia Inquirer, thus beginning quite possibly the slowest and most deliberate execution of a once-proud newspaper that anyone has ever seen?

Oh, I’m sorry – forgive me; I forgot to note that the newspaper has experienced a whopping daily circulation gain of 0.6 percent this year, thus initiating the paper’s childish “When Pigs Fly” ad campaign (only slightly less infantile than Kevin Ferris’ column today; I confess that I was too busy laughing at it to muster a response - it was such a shameless piece of freeper agit-prop that I'm not even going to link to it).

And this note of self-congratulation from Tierney refers to an unnamed Inky reader who he met on Walnut Street, who of course had good things to say about the new ownership.

Well, if Brian is going to bring the cake, then please allow me to bring the acetylene torch, as it were, to light the candles.

This notes how the Inky has basically sold its business section to Citizens Bank, thus ensuring “fair and balanced” coverage, no doubt (and not really a good sign in a paper that continues to shrink anyway – I’m waiting for the day when the “nation and world” section matches the size of the Express edition).

This notes the complaint (legitimate as far as I’m concerned) by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists about the disproportionate number of minorities laid off by Tierney last year, which is particularly bad for a paper that still needs work if it ever hopes to see the day when its newsroom somewhat approximates the demographic makeup of its audience (and I know of no formal reply by Tierney or anyone at Philadelphia Media Holdings to this letter).

And regarding Tierney’s recent ravings that he was trying to put a group together to make a bid for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, I thought this was spot-on…

"I'm tickled pink that Tierney has apparently found a mother lode of money coming from [the two newspapers] and I look forward to him sharing it with his employees," Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky said yesterday. "I look forward to him welcoming back 75 people who lost their jobs because he said he couldn't afford to keep them. I'm looking forward to our pension being restored now that he's got enough money to be throwing at the Wall Street Journal. I'm looking forward to having our sick pay restored now that we know he's so flush."
So Happy Birthday, Brian! Good luck with those Sunday circulation numbers.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (6/29/07)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.

House

Foreign affairs budget. The House passed, 241-178, and sent to the Senate a $34.2 billion foreign operations budget for fiscal 2008, up 8 percent from 2007.

A yes vote was to pass HR 2764.

Voting yes: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), H. James Saxton (R., N.J.), Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.) and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

Iraq study. The House voted, 355-69, to amend HR 2764 (above) to revive the Iraq Study Group, which would conduct a follow-up outside critique of U.S. policies in Iraq.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Saxton, Schwartz, Sestak and Smith.

Voting no: Fattah, Murphy and Pitts.
This idea from Repug Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut is cruel, stupid, and utterly ridiculous, and here’s why; We’re waaay beyond studying whether or not we should be leaving at this point.

And amazingly enough, Joe Pitts ends up doing the right thing here for a change, though for the wrong reason I’m sure; would that others had followed him, Chaka Fattah and Patrick Murphy.

Contraceptives. Members voted, 223-201, to amend HR 2764 (above) to allow U.S. donations of contraceptives to groups overseas that provide or advocate abortions. The vote made an exception to the government's "Mexico City Policy," which since 1984 has sought to ban all forms of U.S. aid to global family-planning organizations that provide or advocate abortions.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Fattah, Murphy, Schwartz and Sestak.

Voting no: Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Pitts, Saxton and Smith.
Assuming this gets through the Senate, the minute that were to occur, Dubya would grab that veto pen into his hand faster than you can say Pat Robertson.

Senate

Energy. The Senate passed, 65-27, and sent to the House a bill to raise vehicle mileage standards by 40 percent by 2020, cut federal support of fossil-fuel production, promote renewable fuels, punish any price gouging by oil firms, and improve the efficiency of appliances and lights.

All Philadelphia-area senators voted for HR 6.

OPEC lawsuits. The Senate voted, 70-23, to hold OPEC nations answerable under U.S. antitrust law when they limit supplies and fix prices on the world oil market. The vote amended HR 6 (above).

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Not voting: Joseph Biden (D., Del.).
Pardon me while I withhold my praise for this, but I’ll cheer when I see legislation like this that is applicable to oil companies that are based or do business in the US of A (and no, I won’t hold my breath waiting for it).

This week, the House debated fiscal 2008 spending bills and possibly energy legislation, while the Senate took up killed bills on union organizing and immigration reform.

Before The Shooting Starts

This Guest Opinion appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times a couple of days ago. It was written by Debbie Wachspress of Lower Makefield, PA, a government affairs consultant and a national leader in the Million Mom March 2000 for common sense guns laws. She is vice president of the board of trustees of Kidsbridge Children’s museum at the College of New Jersey, the mission of which is to teach tolerance and anti-bullying.

Something we know to be true was confirmed on the front page of (The Courier Times) with the headline, “Police say student brought unloaded gun to school.” Kids are bringing guns into our schools. Like it or not, the potential for the next Columbine or Virginia Tech exists everywhere, even in our own back yard. So what should we do?

Some say the solution to prevent guns in our schools is installing metal detectors at the front door. Others promote random bag checks or a prohibition on carrying bags at all. Another contingent advocates patting down our children just before the morning’s Pledge of Allegiance. Most people don’t find any of these options appealing (myself included). I have an alternative.

One very important thing happened on that day at Pennsbury High that was perhaps more valuable than any of these desperate measures: Other students told a teacher about the gun. Speaking up in this situation is difficult. You are angering a classmate with the potential to do you harm. Somebody please give each of these kids a medal and let us hold them up as examples of courage and character.

Something we learned shortly after the Columbine massacre was that the two students who opened fire in the school had talked with other kids about their plans.

There were the most obvious of warning signs and yet not a single teenager in that high school had the wherewithal to tell a teacher. According to government studies, in 81 percent of school shootings, attackers told other students about their plans.

Our schools need to be fostering ongoing discussion about the importance of speaking up, that when one classmate talks about bringing a gun into school or keeping a hit list, speaking up is not snitching, but rather, it is saving lives. It is heroism. And while this conversation is occurring, let’s also make the effort to engage our children in ongoing discussions and role playing about the harmful effects of bullying, using the best school-based programs to foster this.

Ideally, character education is happening around our dining room tables and in the behavior that we model for our kids. When our children enter school, just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic is learning how to treat others with kindness and compassion.

Let us teach our children how not to be silent bystanders but rather to have the courage to come to the aid of a peer who is being bullied. This form of speaking up is just as important as the child who spoke up to the teacher about the presence of a gun.

Though I am running for the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors and not the school board, I commend district CEO Paul Long for agreeing to meet with me to learn more about the National Speak Up campaign developed by PAX International. The Speak Up program makes a toll-free hotline available to report information about peers bringing guns into school, and in the last five years alone, the hotline has received nearly 20,000 calls. With numbers like that, I am willing to be that more than one school shooting was prevented.
As Deb noted, she, along with Matt Maloney, are running as Democrats for the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors (click here to learn more).

Also, click here to learn more about PAX International’s Speak Up Program.

The "Choice" In Segregation

As noted here, the Supreme Court basically ripped the heart out of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling yesterday by telling the cities of Louisville and Seattle that they cannot take even “modest” steps, according to the Times, in applying a race-based solution to school desegregation.

I think it’s also important to note the following in this Times editorial…

Chief Justice Roberts, who assured the Senate at his confirmation hearings that he respected precedent, and Brown in particular, eagerly set these precedents aside. The right wing of the court also tossed aside two other principles they claim to hold dear. Their campaign for “federalism,” or scaling back federal power so states and localities have more authority, argued for upholding the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., programs. So did their supposed opposition to “judicial activism.” This decision is the height of activism: federal judges relying on the Constitution to tell elected local officials what to do.
This post by Adam B at The Daily Kos gives us a more detailed look at the typically patronizing, heavy-handed language used by Hangin’ Judge J.R. in this ruling…

Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again, even for very different reasons. For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis ... is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
If Roberts or anyone else in our government seriously believes that we should “stop assigning students on a racial basis” to our schools, then they should immediately disavow school choice programs through the use of vouchers, because, overwhelmingly, these programs favor African-American families.

Please understand, though, that I do not oppose efforts by African American families to seek better education for their children. All I’m saying is that school choice programs are, ultimately, one type of race-based “solution” that, happily for conservatives, provides better education for a relatively small sampling of affected students funded by money siphoned off from funding for public schools, which would provide for a vastly larger pool of students.

As evidence, I present the article from this link, particularly this excerpt (from 2005)…

Two of the country's three publicly funded voucher programs operate in cities that are predominantly Black (Milwaukee and Cleveland). In 2000, a national public opinion poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPE) found that 57% of African Americans favor public voucher programs, including 74% of African Americans with children in their households (JCPE, 2000). Moreover, market advocates have estimated that African American parents participate in at least 42 privately funded voucher programs throughout the country that target inner-city children (Moe, 1999). Statistics regarding African American students' enrollment in charter schools are more staggering. During the 2000-2001 school year, African American students comprised one-third (33%) of the U.S. charter school population, but only 17% of the U.S. public school population overall (Frankenberg & Lee, 2003).

Both scholarly work and the popular press show that market-based, school-choice reforms appeal to African American parents across the country-parents whose children mostly populate low-performing, urban public schools (Barnes, 1997; Fuller, Elmore, & Orfield, 1996; Miller, 1992; Shokraii, 1996). This fits a pattern of Black parents seeking increased accountability, opportunity, choice, and voice within their children's schools, which they have done since the advent of public schooling (Alien & Jewel, 1995; Anderson, 1988; Levin, 1972; Shujaa, 1992).
And as noted from this link (see “Choice Through Vouchers”)…

Vouchers that parents can use to send their children to private, church-related, or public schools of their choice are an alternative that first received public notice after a 1955 address by economist Milton Friedman. He saw vouchers as a way of providing competition for the public schools. However, vouchers remain controversial because they touch on the line involving separation of church and state and because they are seen as diverting money from the public schools. Since 1991, the PDK/Gallup polls have approached this issue with a question that measures approval of the voucher concept -- "allowing parents and students to choose a private school to attend at public expense" -- without using the politically charged word "vouchers." In considering the results, it is useful to keep in mind that choice, independent of a specific program, is popular with the public.

Findings. The percentage favoring vouchers dropped from 38% a year ago to 36% this year, while opposition grew from 57% to 60%. Support for vouchers started at 24% in 1993, fluctuated up and down for years, and peaked at 46% in 2002. It is now at the mid-Nineties level.

Conclusion VII. Support for vouchers is declining and stands in the mid-30% range.
I would guess that voucher support is declining because many parents in schools deemed as “underperforming” by Every Child Left Behind have come to understand that it is a “rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul” scheme that only assists with a fraction of the cost of sending a child to a participating private school (to say nothing of the issue of a child of another faith, or no formal faith at all, being forced to respect the faith of the school in which he or she attends as part of “school choice”).

It seems to me that Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy, from what I can digest of this (and, like Adam B, I’m still trying to do that), are saying that something like what they would define as “educational need” (something literal and quantitative) is the only basis to them for applying a race-based solution such as that used by Louisville and Seattle. To me, a “choice” program is something literal and quantitative that this court could “wrap its arms around” as opposed to something community based that had already existed in those two cities.

I believe this court wants desegregation, but only on its own narrow terms in accordance with the prescribed Repug, right-wing agenda (which, truth be told, means very little desegregation at all). And they’ve already disregarded “settled” law on other matters, so why should that have stopped them again here (making Roberts, as the Times noted in its editorial, a liar as well as a racist - see his characterization of the Voting Rights Act as noted here).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Perfect Time To Pile On

Kagro X (here) and BarbinMD (here) of The Daily Kos are all over Bushco's middle-digit-raised-on-high at Congress's subpoena for documents related to the firings in the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

To me (and I'm hardly a lawyer or a constitutional scholar), this sounds like contempt of Congress.

As noted here in this Wikipedia article, this represents a slippery legal slope upon which courts have generally been reluctant to rule. All the same, this is the procedure (as noted in the article)...

Following a contempt citation, the presiding officer of the chamber is instructed to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia[1]; according to the law it is the "duty" of the U.S. Attorney to refer the matter to a grand jury for action.

The criminal offense of "contempt of Congress" sets the penalty at not less than one month nor more than twelve months in jail and a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $1,000. Those penalties are enforced upon conviction, even if the Congress which initiated the contempt citation has expired.

The statutory procedure has generally been used by Congress since 1935. While the law pronounces the "duty" of the U.S. Attorney is to impanel a grand jury for its action on the matter, dispute exists over whether the Congress can properly compel the U.S. Attorney to take this action, as the U.S. Attorney is a member of the Executive Branch who ultimately reports to the President. (The Courts have been reluctant to decide this question, claiming it is a "political question" for resolution by the elected branches of government.)
Also noted in the article is the fact that, of those cited, many have managed to settle in advance of the filing of a contempt charge (though with Bushco, I'll admit that anything is possible).

And the perfect time to strike on this is now, especially with President Nutball all wobbly over his loss (h/t Atrios) on the immigration bill; amazingly to me, I thought he showed some halfway decent judgment on it, but the wingnut "base" sunk it and handed a nice political weapon to the Dems - thanks ever so much.

Helping Out Patrick

This letter appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning...

With all of the political negativity, both national and local, I am writing in praise of Congressman Patrick Murphy and his staff.

My widowed neighbor is about to be evicted from her home of 16 years. She has cancer and is unable to work.

Attempts to collect Social Security disability and benefits from her late husband - somehow she got lost in the system - were unsuccessful. To make matters worse, she was unable to receive her late husband's veterans benefits.

With the help of Congressman Murphy and his staff members, Nancy and Brendan, she is now in touch with the proper agencies that are helping her.

Her future is now looking brighter!

Cynthia Genis
Middletown, PA
And here is another reason to support Patrick (and let's not forget this moment below in particular when he stood tall on the Iraq war - I know the audio/video synch is a bit off, but the points he raises are what matters).



And this leads to the inevitable pitch for a contribution with the end of the quarter coming up (sorry), and you can help out by connecting to the Act Blue link (click his photo in uniform on the home page), or by accessing Murphy08 here.

A Master At Work

This doesn't have anything to do with current events here or abroad or politics, but it has everything to do with guitar legend Richard Thompson and the show with his band last night at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA (the review by Sam Adams of the Inquirer follows - trying to start the day with something different)...

Guitarist rocks with big ideas and effortless style
By Sam Adams
For The Inquirer

"How do you do it?" yelled a fan after Richard Thompson unleashed yet another dazzlingly deft guitar solo on the audience of Tuesday's Keswick Theatre show.

"If I told you," Thompson quipped, "then you'd know."

In more worshipful times, Thompson would have been called a guitar god. His technique (which, he joked, he developed via a mail-order course called "1,000 Ways to Play") is both awe-inspiring and seemingly effortless, without an ounce of posturing or swagger. When he plays a solo, which he does often and at length, he keeps his head bowed, intent on moving the song forward rather than turning it into a platform for his prowess.

Unlike most rock-based guitarists, Thompson's solos aren't progressions of small ideas but a handful of large ones. He rarely repeats a figure, tracing sinuous, unpredictable lines that somehow touch ground just as the song comes back to its head. As the massive workout that closed "Hard on Me" built to its tumultuous climax, Thompson seemed to be everywhere at once, bending low notes and plucking out high-pitched flurries as the rhythm section of Michael Jerome (drums) and Taras Prodaniuk (bass) thundered behind him.

At Thompson's right hand was multi-instrumental sideman Pete Zorn, whose crafty choices and tasteful playing brought new life to oft-played chestnuts. Zorn's croaking baritone saxophone added a comic twist to "The Wrong Heartbeat," and as a rhythm guitarist, he seemed to know just when to push Thompson along with a quickened strum or two.

Good as Thompson's band was, though, they were hardly missed when they were offstage for a handful of songs. With only his voice and an acoustic guitar, Thompson evoked the cat-paw strut of a music-hall orchestra on "Al Bowlly's in Heaven." The breathless rush of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" perfectly mirrored the song's tale of a motorcycle-riding outlaw who lives fast and dies young.

With the band behind him, Thompson castigated mistreating women ("Bad Monkey") and sarcastically glorified male thick-headedness ("Mr. Stupid"). But on his own, he let his guard down, a feat as thrilling as any technical display.
And here he is performing "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" mentioned in the Adams review.



Also, posting may be sporadic today; we'll see.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This Week's Smerky Errata

Even when I agree with him (as I do concerning last Sunday’s column about not moving up the PA primary date next year), Philadelphia’s most notorious Repug lapdog manages to conjure up some truly inane nonsense, such as what he considers to be typical campaign behavior…

(Moving up the primary) won't increase the amount of substantive dialogue or personal interaction with candidates in our state. They'll run ads. They'll give a few speeches in the southeast and in Pittsburgh, before quickly flying on to Illinois, New York and California. The closest we'll all come to getting personal will be the interruption of the dinner hour by a telephone push-poll.
I guess Smerky is relying on the fact that many voters aren’t familiar with push-polling (as well as “robo-calls”); both are truly odious tactics practiced by, among others, Jim Gerlach in his campaign against Lois Murphy last year when Gerlach ran for re-election (successfully, sad to say – no sense calling out the 6th district numbskull voters who supported him and risk taking a shot at the wise ones who didn’t).

If, as a voter, you believe you’ve been victimized by a push-poll or a robo-call, contact the offended campaign as soon as possible and let them know (hint: the offender, more often than not, will be a Repug).

Also, concerning how Smerky votes (harking back to the “glorious” days of “Morning in America” with Ronnie Baby and Poppy Bush), he also brought us these pieces of – wisdom(?)…

I heard both speak. I shook their hands. I looked into their eyes. I watched their mannerisms. In short, I formed opinions about each man based on something other than TV coverage and commercials. Each spent time in the state, with field organizations and campaign headquarters, position papers (pre-Internet), and surrogate speakers advancing their views.
I hope Smerky actually read or familiarized himself with the position papers he mentions (and how funny is it that someone who has a column in the Inquirer doesn’t even mention the importance of newspapers in this process?).

Oh well, at least Smerky didn't say anything about smelling them or contemplating anything more sordid, as noted here.

And last as well as least, I give you this…

But what if all is not determined on Feb. 5 (2008)? What if the GOP remains a horse race between Giuliani and Thompson? Or if Clinton and Obama are still deadlocked come Feb. 6? Perhaps a candidate will pick up a head of steam in February only to have a Muskie meltdown or Dean scream in March.
(Apparently, it isn’t much of a “horse race” at the moment between Giuliani and Thompson in the most important “battleground states” at the moment based on this – silly Repug voters, falling for another slick actor…).

Putting aside the fact that the “Dean Scream” was a manufactured media moment of no significance regarding anything whatsoever, and also putting aside the fact that John Edwards is discounted here, even though he’s leading in Iowa polling at the moment based on this – and who of us remembers the “Muskie Meltdown,” I ask (which was a minor show of emotion over a slanderous article written about his wife – Muskie’s coverage would have been totally sympathetic now), I love Smerky’s implication that this sort of thing only happens to Dems (I mean, Repugs never commit these sort of pratfalls for all the world to see, right?).

God, Smerky is such a tool (pointing this stuff out is a dirty, thankless job, I’ll admit, but somebody has to do it).

Mitt Romney, The “Regrettable” Repug

This Letter To The Editor appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer a few days ago…

I am pleased that the Massachusetts state legislature defeated an amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to ban same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is the only state in which same-sex marriage is legal.

Civil rights issues should never be decided by referendum. Our Constitution guarantees that the will of the majority cannot negate the rights of the minority.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine that was long used to subjugate blacks. The court ruled that anything which was "separate" was inherently unequal. If racial civil rights issues had been turned over to individual state vote, black Americans would likely still be using "colored" bathrooms throughout the South.

Yet Massachusetts' former Republican governor, Mitt Romney, who is now a candidate for the party's presidential nomination, called the state legislature's vote "regrettable."

Long-held prejudices die slowly. As the saying goes, "The prejudiced and obstinate man does not so much hold opinions as his opinions hold him."

William A. Stoddart
Wilmington, DE
How true that is; I wish Romney would take a few minutes to read this touching and emotionally wrenching account of Don D. Harryman, a gay man trying live his life as a Mormon, before he casts aspersions on a state he once governed but has now apparently “left behind.”

And this is truly demented; I’ve never in my life heard of anyone doing anything like that to a pet. If Romney thinks this is an acceptable way to treat a dog, an animal that generally travels well, then he must have been raised on Mars.

Update: Speaking of the dog thing, is it too bad of a pun to say that this story has legs?

PA's Toxic Time Bombs

The latest from PA Clean Water Action (the last story on the environment jogged my memory on this one)…

Action Needed to Clean Up Hazardous Sites in Pennsylvania

Abandoned, polluted industrial sites, asbestos-laden reservoirs, TCE in people’s well water… these are real problems Pennsylvanians struggle with everyday. To clean up polluted sites, we need permanent funding for the state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA). This is a vital program that is facing total bankruptcy this year. Don’t let this happen!
Take action today.

Your Elected Officials in Harrisburg will soon vote on funding for HSCA. A state bill, HB 1206, was introduced that adds a $2.25 tipping fee on all municipal garbage that goes to PA landfills. This funding mechanism would provide HSCA with the support it needs. Also, because PA is the largest importer of trash in the country, nearly 40% of the money for HSCA will come from out of state trash generators. Even if the entire fee was passed on to PA residents, the cost would be a mere $2 per person per year.

Send an e-mail to your State Representative and Senator. Urge them to not only support HB 1206 (which contains the Governor’s proposal), but to advance an amendment so that the $2.25 fee also apply to construction and commercial waste, and all waste that goes to our incinerators.

The vote on this bill will happen any day now.
Please act today, and help get PA’s toxic waste sites cleaned up!
To learn more, click here.

A Tragic Tigris Fish Story

Somehow, though, I don’t think anyone will be bragging about it.

As noted here by the Times of London, Imams in Iraq have issued a fatwa on carp caught in the Tigris river. The reason is because the fish is considered unclean now, seeing as how it has to coexist in the river with so many dead bodies.

“I still like to eat fish once a week, but it is not quite the same as before,” said Ali, a regular customer, who stopped by Abu Ayyad’s stall yesterday to select a fish for cooking and then returned later to pick it up for his family’s lunch. “We have only been eating farmed fish for the past year.”

The traditional recipe (masgouf) has been prepared in Baghdad for centuries. In happier times the fishermen would bring their boats up along the banks and prepare brushwood fires. The fish would be cleaned, gutted and cut down the back to form a circle and then grilled upright against an open fire.

Whole families would sit out in the cool of the evening and consume masgouf with bread and salads. To this day masgouf is still prepared by Iraqi exiles, including members of the once-vibrant Jewish community, who were forced out of the country half a century ago.

But, like in so many parts of modern Iraq, the conflict has destroyed the old traditions. The once-popular stretch of river, known as Abu Nawas, where masgouf restaurants were open late into the night is a no-go area these days for vehicles and most pedestrians.
I’m sure Dick Cheney is cracking another crooked smile over this one, seeing that he has helped inflict such damage on marine life both here and halfway around the world.

You Had Eight Years, Rudy

“America’s Mayor” really does make this job too easy at times (re: his blaming of Bill Clinton here for “not responding forcefully enough” to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and later terrorist attacks).

Let’s start with the information from this link, which notes that, after the 1993 attack, Rudy decided to put the Emergency Command Center in Building 7 (the one that pancaked even though it wasn’t hit by anything – hmmm…) because he considered it too much to travel to a more secure location in Brooklyn. Also noted is the fact that he didn’t put into place a clear chain of command for emergency workers after 1993, and did not implement a single measure recommended by the fire department, which identified crucial emergency response failures.

Also, this comprehensive post by davefromqueens via The Daily Kos documents these failures and many others by Giuliani prior to 9/11 and subsequent to that awful day (as well as the CIA’s rueful admission that it had trained the 1993 WTC bombers here – hat tip to the blogger My Three Cents for these two links).

And what of the response of Bill Clinton? Well, as noted here…

In all, ten militant Islamist conspirators – including Ramzi Yousef (the person chiefly responsible for the attack) – were convicted for their part in the bombing and were given prison sentences of a maximum of 240 years each.
I realize Clinton doesn’t deserve credit exclusively for that, but this did take place under his watch (and we’re all still waiting for additional convictions for the 9/11 attacks besides the one against Mounir el Motassadeq noted here).

Also, cruise missile attacks were ordered by Clinton at terrorist bases in the Sudan and Afghanistan in response to the U.S. Embassy bombings in 1998. Of the 21 terrorists convicted in the bombings, two were killed, four are serving life without parole, and two are being held at Guantanamo; the rest are being held in the U.K. or are still at large.

In addition, Clinton provided this explanation for the missile attacks in this interview in which he clashed with Fox’s Chris Wallace: “The entire military was against sending special forces into Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise…We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that Al Qaeda was responsible while I was President.” And the investigation into the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole could not be completed before the end of Clinton’s term in office.

So to sum up, Rudy, your nonsensical blame game may play with a gaggle of right-wing zombies at Regent University, Pat Robertson’s conservative “Christian” college, but it deflates pretty quickly when held up to scrutiny in blue state territory (though I admit that Rockville, MD is approximately on the geographic and ideological border line).

The C-O-N of the O-S-P

In this speech before students designated as 2007 Presidential Scholars on Monday (one which was ripe with his idiotic attempts at humor, making jokes about his lack of education which, sadly, are thoroughly grounded in reality), Dubya reminded everyone about the following…

We did something else interesting, and I look forward to working with Congress on this -- and I must confess, it's slightly controversial -- and that is, is that we promoted the first federally funded Opportunity Scholarship Program here in Washington, D.C. It basically said to low-income parents that here's some money to help you send your child to a private school or a parochial school, your choice. In other words, it said, if you're tired of being in a system that simply hasn't met expectations, that there ought to be something different, and that I believe that -- I think it's the role of government to help low-income parents have different options.

The program is working. It's over-subscribed. I mean, there are thousands of families that have been helped through this Washington, D.C. program, which ought to say to policymakers, there's a huge demand for something better. People are sick of mediocrity in the status quo. Obviously, it hasn't happened with these kids, for which we're grateful. But there's still too many schools that just aren't meeting expectations. And so I look forward to working to see if we can't expand this kind of program.
“Thousands,” Dubya? Try 1,800 enrolled in non-public schools through the OSP for the 2006-2007 school year (noted here), which, if not over at this point, must be winding to a close.

Also (as noted here)…

(An) evaluation (by the Manhattan Institute) finds that the OSP had no academic effect, positive or negative, on the District's public schools after its first year. Other studies tend to indicate school choice programs have helped to improve public school performance.
As noted here, the OSP was initiated as part of the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act passed by Congress in 2003; this five-year pilot program was part of the omnibus spending bill passed in 2004 and became the first voucher program to be overseen by the U.S. Department of Education.

I know there are families that have been helped by the OSP, but the fact is that we’re talking about 1,800 students out of a school district of approximately 70,000, as noted in the Georgetown study.

And state OSP programs have run into legal challenges, such as the one noted here in Florida. This is because when all is said and done and we’ve dispensed with the shiny, happy rhetoric, OSPs are voucher/school choice programs whose stated goal is to encourage all students in this country to attend private schools and, in the process, let our public schools wither on the vine, so to speak, and die.

And if you want proof regarding what I just said, all you have to do is wade through this comprehensive report assembled by George Miller, senior Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. You could spend all day reading about how this administration has short changed education in this country.

As for the scholars Dubya met with on Monday, kudos in particular to Mari Oye of Wellesley, Massachusetts who, according to MoDo in her Times Select column here today, “slipped him a handwritten letter pleading with him not to let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees” (and kudos also to all 50 students who signed the letter - and speaking of opposing torture, please give this a look).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Videos

Fooling April (a Philly-area band performing "C-4" in this brief clip, though I don't know who is introducing them here - definitely looking for more from them since they rock out loud; heard a song tonight called "Breaking The Skin" that was terrific)...



...Happy Birthday to Chris Isaak ("Wicked Game," the nearest I've ever seen to a Calvin Klein ad in a music video; pardon me while I now go out and smoke a cigarette after watching this)...



...also, 30 years ago, the man who no doubt inspired Isaak and countless others gave his last concert performance, and that would be Elvis of course; here he is performing "In The Ghetto" in 1970...



...and in light of the recent garbage from Ann Coulter against John Edwards (based on her purposeful misrepresentation of what Bill Maher supposedly said about Deadeye Dick), I now present Henry Rollins and his "love letter" to her, complete with bad words.

Good Intentions Paving The Road To Hell

I was alerted to this in The Inquirer yesterday; it seems that there are a group of Philadelphia Democratic voters who, instead of casting their ballots for individuals of their own party, may decide to support Philadelphia Repug David Oh for an at-large seat on Philadelphia’s City Council in the November election.

I freely admit that there are probably many other people who know more about Philadelphia politics than I do, but here is what I’ve been able to figure out; there are seven seats in play for the election, and the Democrats traditionally hold onto five (that is the number voters are allowed), with the other two held at the moment by Republicans Frank Rizzo, Jr. (a good guy, I must admit) and Jack Kelly.

Some Democratic voters, as noted in MrLuigi’s post at Young Philly Politics, are tempted to vote for Oh and elect him to try and give Kelly the boot. This would mean voting for four Dems and one Repug; even though the Dems will still hold the majority, this is sending a bad message as far as I’m concerned.

To me, a Repug is a Repug is a Repug; when push comes to shove, they will take their marching orders from Washington (Dems are guilty of this mentality too a bit, but trying to get them to line up in this way is highly problematic – that’s a bad thing nationally as far as I’m concerned, but a good thing locally).

I think W. Wilson Goode, Jr. is right; if Oh has positions that are somewhat progressive (respect on diversity including the Log Cabin Republicans), that’s good. However, if he were really serious about trying to advance these issues on behalf of a party that would actually listen to him, he would have run as a Dem (as Goode wondered in the comments).

As it is, he’s a Repug. Let him fend for himself. If he can’t, then (metaphorically speaking) let him dangle from a yardarm as food for the buzzards.

Update: The following doesn’t pertain to the November Philadelphia election, but it sure as hell pertains to the Republican party; if you thought I was uncharitable before, then in the words of that shallow but revered Repug president, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Do me a favor; read this post, print it, stick it on a wall where you live so you’ll see it every stinking day until November 2008, and never forget who killed the Employee Free Choice Act!

More Inky “Glass Half Empty” Time

Last week, in response to the MSNBC story I cited here about journalists making campaign contributions, I wondered what the policy of The Philadelphia Inquirer was on this subject.

Well, the paper answered that question today in their own editorial on the subject (and the paper was in full harrumph, nanny-time-finger-shaking mode over the matter)…

Critics who claim a liberal bias in the "mainstream" media won't be surprised at the partisan divide among the campaign contributors: they overwhelmingly favored Democrats and liberal organizations.

The percentage of journalists who crossed this line is small, considering there are more than 50,000 newsroom employees working for daily newspapers alone in the United States.

Still, these findings are as troubling as the revelation that some among the "new" online media were paid by political candidates whom they were promoting. (Such financial arrangements often were not disclosed to the audience.)



...readers and viewers have no special reason to expect journalistic neutrality; the proof for them must be borne out in fair news coverage, day in and day out. The MSNBC investigation shows journalists must try harder to give audiences that assurance.
Don’t you love the innuendo of guilt here? Journalists who are allowed by their news organizations to exercise their rights as citizens are perceived by the Inky as “crossing a line,” presumably because they supported traditionally Democratic causes (and how funny is it for the Inky to point out “financial arrangements often not disclosed to an audience” when they perpetrate a monstrosity such as this?).

And to answer my original question about the Inky's policy, here is editor Bill Marimow…

"…newsroom policy "prohibits making contributions of money or time to political candidates. That's an ironclad rule."
Fair enough. But here once more is New Yorker editor David Remnick on this subject…

"Our writers are citizens, and they're free to do what they want to do," said (Remnick), who has 10 political donors at his magazine. "If what they write is fair, and they respond to editing and counter-arguments with an open mind, that to me is the way we work."
That’s good enough for me.

"Obfuscating" At Ground Zero

(That word, used in a completely correct manner as far as I’m concerned, was spoken by Dem Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Ellison being Glenn Beck’s favorite congressman, of course – and why is Beck’s show still on the air anyway?).

So Christie Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA at the time of the 9/11 attacks, testified before a congressional hearing yesterday that the air around the fallen World Trade Center was safe to breathe.

I wish Dem Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s committee had called Thomas Cahill to testify either prior to Whitman’s appearance or possibly concurrent with hers, since, as noted in this prior post, Cahill, a professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric science, had called the conditions for people working at ground zero without respirators “brutal” (here is more)…

“The site was hot for months. The metals burned into fine particles. They rose in a plume and moved over people’s heads on most days. There were at least eight days when the plume was pushed down into the city. Then people tasted it, smelled it and saw it. But people who worked in the pile (of rubble) were getting it every day.”

Cahill’s data found that the pollution included very fine metals, which interfere with lung chemistry; sulfuric acid, which attacks lung cells; carcinogenic organic matter; and very fine insoluble particles such as glass, which travel through the lungs and into the bloodstream and heart.



Cahill’s comments echo a report issued in August (2003) by the EPA inspector general, an internal watchdog on the agency. The inspector general concluded that under White House influence, the EPA issued misleading assurances that there was no health risk from air pollution after the attack.



“Christie Whitman was too premature to say it was safe,” Cahill said Tuesday. “I think the EPA should have known. The EPA had its own reports saying it could be dangerous. Why didn’t the EPA bring in their own people from all over the country? They could have. Never thought of it. They did later. But not in the time that mattered.”
And it’s not as if Whitman hadn’t caved on environmental safety because of a conflict of interest before; as noted here, former National EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin complained about Whitman’s foot dragging on the cleanup of the Shattuck and Marjol hazardous waste sites.

Perhaps this was the reason why…

Citigroup owns Shattuck. Citigroup's venture capital company co-owns AMI Semiconductor with GA-TEK Inc., the parent company of Gould Electronics, Marjol's owner. Mrs. Whitman's husband John owns stock valued at between $100,001 and $250,000, according to Mrs. Whitman's financial disclosure reports. He also works for a venture capital company backed by Citigroup.
And Martin was rewarded for this public service by having his ombudsman office reassigned under the EPA inspector general by Whitman, which meant, among other things, that Martin was no longer able to supervise, hire and fire his own staff (including chief inspector Hugh Kaufman, who sought reinstatement).

It would be nice if Whitman showed an ounce of courage here and returned the favor to the people who sold her out (referring of course to the individuals at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Why anyone would still show allegiance to this cabal of crooks is something that defies sanity as far as I’m concerned.

Money Over Humanitarianism

TIME Magazine gushed over Bill and Melinda Gates in 2006, naming them Persons Of The Year along with Bono of U2 in part for providing $750 million for child immunizations, awarding grants to schools in Texas, Colorado and Massachusetts, and sponsoring the Lutheran World Relief program, which received $640,000 to help nomadic communities in Niger avert food crises.

What a tragedy that Gates doesn’t have a similar humanitarian instinct when it comes to American workers.

As noted here in yesterday’s New York Times, Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft (the company Gates founded, of course), as well as other executives, lobbied Congress to loosen H-1B visa restrictions to allow more foreign workers to enter this country under the traditional cry by employers that there is a shortage of American workers (author Linda Musthaler in her column here uses a more polite “B” word than the one I would use in response to that claim).

Actually, if Gates had his way, he would eliminate the H-1B visa program altogether (as noted here). Gee, I guess Bill doesn't see the homeland security issue there, does he?

Here is yet another column about the pain inflicted on workers who are victimized by outsourcing/offshoring/whatever corporate trend is favored this week when it comes to screwing over U.S. workers (and Bob Cesca of HuffPo notes here about the hypocrisy of individuals like Sen. Charles Grassley who profess to support American workers but have, in fact, voted for every “free” trade bill that has come across his path).

And by the way, Bill, if you still have a shred of a good instinct remaining towards your fellow man, you might want to take a look at the case of Waskar Ari Chachaki (noted here), a visiting professor from Bolivia who last taught at the University of Nebraska but who has been denied a visa to reenter this country. His students would greatly benefit from his ability and perspective on a foreign culture (though we’re only talking about humanities here and not computer science as far as you’re concerned, so I guess I’m supposed to understand why you wouldn’t care).

Fighting Freeper Slime

The latest from Joe Trippi of the John Edwards for President Campaign (once again, sorry to "put the bite" on everyone like this)...

Yesterday, Jonathan told you that the folks who benefit from the status quo are attacking John personally because they don't want the country to hear his message.

And you know what happened when we called them out? The attacks started pouring in.

That same day, the Ann Coulter-wannabe Michelle Malkin blasted John on her blog. Fox News has been bashing him around the clock. And Coulter herself said, "if I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."
Typical (and don't hold your breath waiting for any of her foul peers to call her on this, of course).

We are fighting back, but we need your help. Give what you can today.

Click here.

They are trying to put John away before he even gets started. Because they know what we know. They know that John has led on Iraq. That he has lead on universal health care. That he has led on global warming, on poverty, and on building One America.

And they are seeing what we're seeing—poll after poll showing John outperforming all other Democrats against all Republicans. In the latest poll from Rasmussen Reports, John is the only Democrat to beat Giuliani, McCain, Romney and Fred Thompson—and by an average of 13 points!

If you're a right-wing wing-nut, this is the scariest thing you can imagine—that the Democratic candidate with the boldest vision for America is also the most electable.

So they will stop at nothing to tear John down. We can stop them—but only if you stand up. We have 5 more days to reach our goal of $9 million. Give what you can today, and help us beat back this vicious tide.

Click here.

We are counting on you—because we are not counting on corporate interests and D.C. lobbyists. John is the only candidate with a proven record of taking on corporate interests. He is the only candidate who hasn't taken a dime from D.C. lobbyists or political action committees. He hasn't sold out, and he hasn't forgotten where he came from.

But that means we need you to reach our goal. You, and the hundreds of thousands of other supporters on this list. If we all give today, we can turn our small change into big change—big change for America and the world.

Click here.

With your help, we will keep pushing John's message in the critical early primary states. Today, we are launching a new TV spot in New Hampshire. People all across the state will hear John's message: if you want big change on poverty, global warming, health care, Iraq—if you want big change on all the issues that matter most, then join our cause.

We need to hit our goal of $9 million by Saturday to keep this ad on the air and continue reaching voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and other key states nationwide. To see the ad, to help us hit that goal, and to keep the wing-nuts shaking in their boots, please give what you can afford today.

Click here.

Your time is now—and we are counting on you.

Sincerely,

Joe Trippi
John Edwards for President
June 26, 2007
To learn more, click here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday Videos

Bad Religion ("Honest Goodbye" - hat tip to kos for this one)...



...Happy Birthday to Ian McDonald of Foreigner and King Crimson ("Heart Turns To Stone" by the former group; a little early in the week to journey to the '80s, I know - I also know McDonald had left by this point, but I like this song, so...)...



...Happy Birthday also to Tim Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House ("I Got You" from the former band again, going to the '80s well once more; introduced by show biz hanger-on Jack Burns on "Fridays" - the comedy was hit and miss, but they certainly knew good, interesting camera work when it came to the music acts)...



...and Happy Birthday to Carly Simon ("Mockingbird" with J.T. from back in the '70s - I have a feeling this was the No Nukes concert, but there's no further info on this video so I can't confirm it).

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I’ve been putting this off for a variety of reasons, but I have to come clean, so here goes (long post coming up).

Last year when I returned from vacation, I noted proudly that we had spent a week at Martha’s Vineyard, a place surrounded by beach, azaleas, hyacinth, and all manner of natural wonder, as well as some of the most kickass seafood you can imagine. We took a trip on a catamaran and explored the island all over the place (the seaport museum in Edgartown, the clay cliffs at Aquinnah, the honky tonk shops, food places and arcade at Oak Bluffs, the old fishing town of Menemsha where Jaws was filmed) and had a great time.

This year, however, we traveled below the Mason-Dixon line to a wholly other place…Walt Disney World.

Yes, I know. I know that I have railed against this evil corporate enterprise for some time now. I have posted about the fact that Walt Disney was one of the most notorious anti-unionists this country has ever seen. I have posted about the fact that the Disney empire is, to a large degree, a celebration of an exclusionist, unquestioning, definitely-right-of-center vision of what this country should be about as far as they’re concerned when it comes to entertainment, political perception and the behavior of men, women and children (even pets too, though the T.V. programming of The Disney Channel is a bit of an exception – more on that later), rooted in a past that may have actually existed only in the imagination of “the great man” himself.

And oh yes, I’ve also posted about that terrible movie brought to us by one of Disney’s television affiliates known as the American Broadcasting Company.

But we went anyway, mainly as a reward to the young one who had wanted to go for some time and did very well over the past year despite some difficulties that were not of his doing. And we also went because we knew he would enjoy the parks and have a lot of opportunity to swim at the pool in the resort where we stayed for the week.

I promise not to try and make this sound too much like I’m promoting these people, but I have to be fair and say that they did a lot of things very well when we were there. For our first night, we descended upon the Hoop-Dee-Dos Musical Review at the Wilderness Lodge, as cornball of a countrified experience as you can imagine (the three-man, three-woman crew were dressed as if they were “Hee Haw” refugees via either a medicine show or a square dance, perhaps both, and they even sang songs and held up signs letting the audience know when the food would be served). It was entertaining to a point, I must admit, and as my wife noted, it really is the kind of activity that helps prepare you for what you will be experiencing for the rest of the week (she did a great job planning the trip, I should point out). Afterwards, we took a boat from the lodge, and in the process, watched a night time light show on other boats en route elsewhere before we arrived at the Magic Kingdom.

I should also point out that throughout the week, there were all kinds of street-theater moments of entertainers in full costume performing some silly slapstick comedy or parading or dancing around, trying to involve members of the crowd in the process. There were also more elaborate nighttime parades such as the one we saw when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom; we managed to squeeze in a couple of rides (including the new “Pirates Of The Caribbean,” which was fun) before we made our way to the bus stop for the trip back to Port Orleans Riverside.

And speaking of the bus service, I should note that the lines for Port Orleans versus all of the other resorts were easily the longest. This is because Port Orleans is composed of both the Riverside and French Quarter resorts, and either of them are huge by themselves; based on what we observed, more people stayed at either of them than anywhere else (versus the Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Animal Kingdom Lodge, for example). This was a problem particularly in the beginning of the week when it rained most often, though as the rain let up, it seemed that Disney became more aware of the issue and sent more buses.

On our first full day, we visited Disney MGM. We had fun even though the Haunted Mansion was closed, and it was impossible to get anywhere near the Indiana Jones special effects show. Also, while waiting for the Great Movie Ride, we watched clips of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” and other Hollywood films which must have been the original celluloid; with digital reproduction, it’s ridiculous for Disney to show this stuff. And after we finished watching the clips, we found out the ride was broken, and we all had to leave.

(This was after waiting in line for about 20 minutes – the week was marked, for the most part, by waiting in line to wait in line in the morning, and add another line to wait through still in the afternoon. Visiting a theme park is an endurance test of one type or another; anyone not prepared to deal with that should stay home if at all possible.)

For the evening of our first day, we ate in The Magic Kingdom and attended Mickey’s Fantasmic Light Show, an outdoor event. The problem is that a line of thunderstorms worked its way through the park, and the Disney announcer encouraged everyone to squeeze into the theater while noting that the show could be delayed (and as the rain descended, the crowd that was bunched together so compactly quickly scattered). Also, every time people put up their umbrellas (including us), we were told by the announcer to lower them thinking it could attract lightning. It’s a bit tough to do that when you have a more-and-more-inconsolable eight-year-old who is starting to get soaked (and kudos to the Mickey-Mouse-rain-slickered yahoos behind us who yelled, “I’d rather be wet than dead” each time we tried to open our umbrella…the young one was terrific all week, but this was one moment when he had a meltdown that was totally forgivable as far as I was concerned).

Memo to Disney: the next time there is even a hint of thunderstorm activity in the area near the time the light show is to occur, cancel the show well in advance to prevent this ridiculous scene from ever taking place again (as well as the mad dash for the buses that resulted in the longest lines we dealt with all week, continuing to get wet as we waited). We didn’t pay extra for the show, and we promise we won’t hold it against you if you cancel it; we’d rather that you err on the side of safety.

Upon return to our room at the resort, we watched some T.V. as we dried off, and most of the channels of course were Disney T.V. shows, movies, or other promotional programming, including the ubiquitous Stacey and her “Top 7” Walt Disney World attractions; the half-hour program managed to squeeze in plugs for about a hundred attractions in the process. Our host was this chirpy, way-over-enthusiastic young thing who communicated through a combination of exaggerated hand and body gestures, sound effects, and very short monosyllabic sentences accented by what used to be called “Valley Girl-speak” (“I mean, you’ve just got to check out the new ride at MGM – Love Aerosmith, love roller coasters…hellllooooooo???”). Another bit of supposed quality Disney fare was a T.V. show about these two generic white, blonde kids living in a hotel acting like totally obnoxious brats, as well as another T.V. show about school kids who decide to walk out of class when they’re told to take a test; Disney’s “family” shows feature kids who, apparently, aren’t doing their jobs unless they initiate seismic ruptures on the scale of self-absorbed detestability.

We spent more time at The Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, taking some of the silly but fun rides with Snow White and Peter Pan, as well as “It’s A Small World” (don’t forget to use the old steam train – it gets you around faster than walking). Though we enjoyed Tomorrowland also, I should note that we took a ride on the go-carts on the supposed raceway, and I have to say that Disney should either retire the ride altogether or come up with some kind of new design. I had to push the gas pedal almost through the floor to get the cart to move at all, and the biggest difficulty I had was making the vehicle move while stuck on the track that kept it in its lane. It really was a joke (speaking of humor, the “Monsters, Inc.” laugh factory was fun, as well as the Buzz Lightyear space ride, and Space Mountain was as good as always). We had a good meal at Hollywood and Vine that evening.

We went to EPCOT on Wednesday (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) and saw the manatees at The Living Seas as well as a “Finding Nemo” show. We couldn’t get anywhere near the new exhibit “Soaring” even with Fast Pass, an option available to us since we had “park-hopper” passes (definitely spend the money on them if you’re going to Walt Disney World as well as the meal plan; the latter cut our food costs by at least half, and ask for any upgrades while you’re visiting – you get tons of counter service meals and snacks that you’ll never be able to eat over the whole week). Afterwards, we visited some of the countries in the World Showcase, particularly France with its great movie – we couldn’t get to Canada to see their great film also. We just walked around to Japan, Morocco and Great Britain, eating dinner at The Brown Derby before watching Illuminations, another great light show.

We went to the Animal Kingdom on Thursday, which may have been the most fun during the whole week. I particularly enjoyed the Maharajah’s Jungle Walk (including the bats) and the Kali River Rapids, and my wife and the young one went on Expedition Everest (sorry, I don’t do that stuff, though Stacey ranted about it all week). We also saw “The Tree Lady,” a woman walking around on stilts garbed in foliage moving very gracefully, lining herself up against other trees and some other well-placed obstacles upon which she could recline while people took pictures (again, including us). Another amazing piece of architecture in The Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life, upon which is engraved about a hundred different types of animals. Afterwards we watched the really funny 3-D Animatronic show “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” based on “A Bug’s Life,” a movie we’d seen many times, and we finished the day with a ride in a Range Rover (more of a bus, really, I guess) through the “Kilimanjaro Safari.”

As I mentioned, the food was great and the restaurants were terrific also everywhere we went, and that Thursday night, we enjoyed a dinner buffet at Boma in The Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is an amazing place. The menu included African dishes like sea bass cooked in banana leaves, grilled salmon with tamarind barbecue sauce and a stew of the day (usually curry chicken, as noted here). There was a wide variety of salads also including cole slaw prepared with lentls and raisins which was delicious (I believe that was the combination – don’t have notes on this, sorry). We ate at a few buffet restaurants because the young one can eat a variety of foods, and we didn’t want to limit him to the kids’ fare at most restaurants of chicken tenders, beef, and macaroni and cheese.

Friday we journeyed to Typhoon Lagoon, that landlocked location where red state America goes to visit the sea shore (and make no mistake; though there were all kinds of nationalities visiting and working throughout Walt Disney World, when you visit you will hear predominantly southern accents – some of the people we spent time with on the bus were pretty cool, though I never once entertained the possibility of a political discussion…we’re all on vacation, after all). I stumbled in the wave pool and scraped my knee, which was my clumsiness more than anything else, and we floated down “the lazy river” (based partly on Stacey’s recommendation) in inner tubes while the young one enjoyed some of the slides. We got there at about 9:30 and had a lot of space, but by noon you could barely move. We had dinner at Le Cellier in EPCOT that evening and had yet another terrific meal (ordering the most expensive items that we already prepaid for since we were using the dining plan).

Saturday was once last visit to The Magic Kingdom, and then on Sunday we packed up, hung out at the resort, and then took the shuttle bus to Orlando International Airport for home (which, despite all of the nice shops, is currently a pit – I know the airport is being renovated, but there were open ceilings and exposed pipes all over the place; I hope they get everything patched up soon).

Something else I should note is that “pin trading” is a really big deal at Walt Disney World; there are all sorts of Disney character pins that you can buy primarily for hats as well as other pieces of clothing and trade with others. Price wise, they start at about $7-8, and if you buy them, the cost will add up pretty quickly (other people come up to you and ask you if you want to swap pins, and that’s perfectly acceptable if you’re willing to do that).

A final note, by the way, is that if there was one thing we got fed up with more than anything else during the trip, it was these people riding around on motorized carts primarily in the parks. I can understand a parent with a stroller containing one or two children having to butt into a line somewhere if necessary (and by the way, if you can avoid it, please don’t bring a child under the age of 5 or 6 because they’ll tire quickly, particularly in the summer heat, and you’ll be miserable particularly because you’ve shelled out a lot of dough and not gotten the benefit for it), but I couldn’t understand these other people. And in the beginning, I felt that I should be mindful of the fact that they may have been riding around because of a physical disability. But as the week wore on, I realized that these people were riding on these carts because they were grossly overweight, having not bothered in any way to take care of themselves, and at a certain point, I wondered why they were entitled to any special treatment at all.

I honestly can’t think of anything else to add about the trip – I know this is an enormous post, and I should probably wrap it up. As I said, I have no illusions about what Disney represents, but I have to give them their due when it comes to providing an enjoyable vacation experience. For the things that didn’t go well, there were many other things that did.

But I definitely could do without Stacey next time, OK?

Hanging Him Out To Dry

As noted here, Dubya sure did this to former Office of Management and Budget director Rob Portman (pictured).

We all know about how Dubya likes to pretend he’s something he’s not, like the “Top Gun” airline pilot during the infamous “Mission: Accomplished” moment on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, the world statesman during the equally unfortunate “laying of hands” on Angela Merkel of Germany, and the leader sensitive to African Americans who makes jokes about them taking out the trash here.

And in keeping with this posturing, he wanted Portman to show steely resolve to Congress in dealing with spending requested in a Military Commissions and Veterans Affairs bill, particularly the portion dealing with VA medical care.

Please understand that I am not sympathetic to Bushco in any way here. But if Dubya is going to send Portman to the hill to do his dirty work, the least he can do is stand by the guy.

However, as noted in the story…

“…congressional Republicans refused to hold the line on veterans and in the end the president decided not to back Portman’s repeated veto threats on the Military Construction-Veterans appropriation measure. Instead, Bush instructed Portman to draft a Statement of Administration Policy for the bill that reiterated concerns about overall spending but failed to include even the boiler plate phrase 'senior advisors would recommend that the president veto the bill' in its current form.”



Portman, a former congressman, had spent enough years in the House to know that opposing the bill would be difficult. But he also knew the numbers well enough to know that any offensive against excess spending would have serious credibility problems if, as an opening shot, it turned a blind eye to 40 percent of the problem (re: the 40 percent discretionary spending increase proposed by Congress).
So what about the person named to replace Portman (Jim Nussle, by name)?

During the six years he served as Chairman of the House Budget Committee he failed twice to reach agreement with the Senate on a joint resolution. A third agreement he forced on the Senate was so controversial that it barely cleared the House and was never called up for a vote in the Senate.



Nussle’s latest train wreck began a year ago when he failed to find any way to reach compromise with his Senate counterpart, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. As a result, the House and Senate proceeded through the appropriations process with two quite different sets of spending restraints—a fact that directly led to a near-total breakdown in the budget process, leaving the job of funding most of the federal government to the new Congress when it convened this past January.
This is just another reason why I’m afraid it could be a looooong next 19 months (1/20/09, barring impeachment, can’t come soon enough).

Fred Thompson, Blogger King

I have to set this up a bit first...

I think anyone who reads blogs or posts content of any kind realizes that it truly is a free-for-all in many ways, with potential for truly wondrous work or the type of dreck to make anyone wonder why we ever decided to graduate from movable type.

Some recent observations in this vein came from Mark Bowden in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week here, in which he proclaimed that “blog sites offer a rudimentary working model” by which reporters can be corrected and/or obtain additional information for a story; though I give Bowden credit for trying to visualize means for a reader to retrieve information beyond paper and ink, I think he trivializes the impact of blogs in an almost comic fashion, still imagining a universe where a particular story is owned completely by a “professional.”

The Inquirer also published a review of the book “The Cult Of The Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture” by Andrew Keen yesterday, which brings us these choice nuggets…

The core of all this monkey business, says Keen, is the blog. As this book was being written, he estimates, there were 53 million blogs on the Internet, which suggests that by 2010 there will be 500 million blogs spewing an endless stream of amateur journalism, uninformed commentary, and wretched poetry, fiction, reviews and essays.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that allows anyone to make or rewrite entries, makes matters worse, in Keen's view. He points out that Wikipedia has no reporters, no editorial staff, and no experienced news harvesters.

"It's the blind leading the blind - infinite monkeys providing infinite information for infinite readers, perpetuating the cycle of misinformation and ignorance," Keen writes.

The monkeys, he adds, are not confined to just expressing themselves through the written word. They also are equipped with camcorders that give rise to Internet portals such as YouTube, which draws in more than 65,000 new videos a day.

"YouTube eclipses even the blogs in the inanity and absurdity of its content. Nothing seems too prosaic or narcissistic for these videographer monkeys. The site is an infinite gallery of amateur movies showing poor fools dancing, singing, eating, washing, shopping, driving, cleaning, sleeping or just staring into their computers," he writes.

The increasing popularity of YouTube and such sites as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo evidence societal obsession with self-broadcasting in which the Internet is the mirror for projecting personal images and views.

"Rather than using it to seek news, information, or culture, we use it to actually be the news, the information, the culture," Keen says.

Because of the abundance of free content that these sites make available, all of this digitized narcissism is bad news for newspapers, magazines, advertising companies, television networks, music companies and Hollywood and book publishers, he contends.

This so-called democratization of media, which cuts out the gatekeepers, experts and authorities, is leading, as Keen sees it, to a state of affairs in which there will be no way to distinguish quality from garbage, fact from falsehood, and, ultimately, good from evil.
First of all, Wikipedia actually does have standards for editing and fact-checking, though of course, as is true with anything online, it is possible to hack into something or generate some error affecting content (I seem to recall that happens with newspapers also).

Second, I’d like to see Keen devote some attention to the corporatization (word?) of our media and how that affects the type of content that appears and the manner in which it is reported. Some of his “infinite monkeys” would disappear if, for example, there were better reporting of presidential candidates beyond the superficiality of poll numbers and fundraising totals, as well as other dreck.

Besides, if Keen really believed this, then he should never have consented to publication of anything related to his brilliant tome online (try "walking the walk" here, OK dude?).

Actually, a reference to “infinite monkeys” is an appropriate setup to this story which proclaims that Repug presidential wannabe Fred Thompson fancies himself as a blogger.

OK, so let’s see this evolving online force in action, shall we (as noted in the story)…

Thompson has been the most active campaign blogger by far, and those who know him say he writes nearly everything himself -- not always the case in modern politics.

"It's not that we wouldn't use all the traditional campaign tools, but what he has seen on the Internet is the ability to directly engage real people and have a conversation," said Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo.

The blog entry that attracted the most attention was his criticism of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore for traveling to Cuba. In response, Moore challenged Thompson to a debate and criticized him for hypocrisy because the actor was fond of Cuban cigars.

In a YouTube video response, Thompson chomps on one of the offending cigars while suggesting Moore look into the case of a dissident Cuban filmmaker who Thompson said was committed to a mental institution.

"A mental institution, Michael," Thompson said. "Might be something you ought to think about."
Wow, Fred. What stunning, incisive analysis! How thoroughly you examined and refuted Moore’s new movie, thus invalidating his claims. Brilliant!

And believe it or not, there’s still more to come (gosh, what a titan of intellect – move over, Kos and Atrios)…

In other blogs, Thompson has praised the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France and belittled the Bush-backed immigration bill languishing in Congress, opposed by many Republican conservatives.

"No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig, it's not going to win any beauty contests," he said.

He compared Israel's retaliation to rocket attacks to the U.S. response if Mexican troops had launched daily attacks on San Diego.

"I can tell you, our response would look nothing like Israel's restrained and pinpoint reactions to daily missile attacks from Gaza," he said.
Gosh, a U.S. attack on this country by Mexico, huh? How prescient of Thompson to observe that our “friends to the south” would thus attack a city where many of their countrymen are no doubt illegally employed. But if Fred posted that it will happen, he must know something we don’t, right?

In a more serious vein, I was able to track down this information from Technorati about blog authorship and readership that I thought was interesting...

In its April 2006 “State of the Blogosphere”, leading blog search engine, Technorati reported:

  • 19.4 million active blogs (defined as having a new post 3 months after creation).

  • 3.9 million blogs are updated at least weekly.

  • 1.2 million new posts per day.

  • 70,000 new blogs are created each day.

  • The universe of blogs is 60 times larger than it was just 3 years ago.

  • It is doubling in size every 6 months.


  • Source: State of the Blogosphere, April 2006, Part 1.
    And when it comes to new blog authors, here’s hoping that, before too much longer, Fred Thompson will grow bored with it and no longer be a contributor, much like the way he apparently grew bored with being a lobbyist and decided to become a politician many years ago.