Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New York: An Argument Against the Grinch

I love New York. Really I do. But these kinds of stories just don't seem to happen anywhere else:

"At first, I thought, 'You can't be serious.' Then I realized, what can you do? It's New York." —Matt Dahlman, 27, whose bags were stolen Christmas night at Penn Station, while he was holding the bleeding head of an elderly man who had just fallen down the escalator. [NYP]

Now of course this doesn't hold a holiday candle to the gun-toting Santa who made all of us think it might be time to give up on humanity.

But stealing bags while somebody's trying to help another person is just undeniably bad.

In defense of Manhattan, I must knock on wood as I say I have never, ever had a bad experience in the city. On the contrary, I've met some really nice cabbies, shared smiles with people on a crowded street and even had one close call with a man who turned out to be a good Samaritan in disguise.

I was young. I was clueless. And I was riding the South Ferry subway from Grand Central to visit a relative on Staten Island. For those of you who don't know, South Ferry's the last stop and as the train carried me closer to my destination, my car emptied out until there was no one left but me and one guy. He was a little older than me, he looked a little threatening, and he kept looking in my direction. I was frozen. If I stood up and looked for another car I was certain I'd get mugged. So I sat still and tried to act cool.

He stood up. He walked toward me. I started hyperventilating while trying to act like I didn't notice. But he stopped directly in front of me.

"You should move," he said.

I looked up.

"You should move," he repeated. "It's not safe to be all alone in one of these cars. You're supposed to move back as they start to empty out."

"I didn't know," I whispered.

"It's okay. Need help with your bag?"

"No, no. I can do it."

"Okay, then. You be careful, okay?"

And he smiled at me.

Like I said....I love New York.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lou Dobbs' Dream Come True - Homeland Security and Buttoning Up the Borders

I have never wished as much for a show to fail as I do this one:

ABC is launching a new reality show in January featuring the Department of Homeland Security.
"Homeland Security USA" will feature agents at the country's borders discussing their efforts to keep us safe from the fearsome terrors we face from other countries.

There will be no political agenda, according to producers. Maybe not implicitly, but it sure as hell sounds like it's going to play into this country's growing paranoia about the rest of the world.


The department is cooperating, saying it's a great opportunity to let us know what they do.

So now we'll have an opportunity to see just how dangerous everything is - from the threat posed by neighboring countries to the postcard from overseas.

Don't try to tell me it's a public service. We've learned caution. It'll be a long time before we forget the lessons of 9-11.

It doesn't take much to turn people into a bunch of scared rabbits, especially in an economy that's already scaring the pants off most of us. How wonderful to offer us the opportunity to focus that fear on something outside our control, giving our brains a break from the necessary contemplation of our past mistakes and how we can improve the future! Why, borrowing more than we can afford to pay off isn't the problem - it's that weird stuff some foreign terrorist tries to put in our mail! Everything will be just fine if we just shut down, close the doors and tell the world we're out to lunch!

If you ever watch Lou Dobbs, you'll know this show is probably going to be his Holy Grail. There's not a problem in this country that Lou doesn't think can be laid at the feet of illegal immigrants. Here's one for you, Lou.

I'm not a fan of reality TV. Most programs show us not the best, but the worst in humanity. Shame on ABC for creating a program aimed at fear mongering. Don't try to tell me it's a tip of the hat to those hard-working employees of the DHS. Nobody watches that and everyone knows it.

Fear sells. And ABC is selling fear. Don't you buy it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Chaotic Holidays

The holidays are upon us. The gifts are bought, almost wrapped, the tree is up and though there are no ornaments on it yet, there are lights. It's pretty freaking festive.

But it's going to be a weird one this year. Handsome Significant Other, who broke his knee on the ice last year getting me a package of Oreos, is finally getting surgery on one of his knees...three days before Christmas.

It's an outpatient thing and he'll be home, but we have no idea how he'll feel. Will he be able to climb the stairs or will he sleep on the couch admiring the unfinished tree? Will he finish wrapping gifts or will he stare into the distance in a drugged stupor while I try not to look at what I'm wrapping for him?

Perhaps he'll sit by the fire and wonder how Scrooge is doing.

It's been the weirdest year ever.

He broke his knee, he injured the good knee, he's become a familiar face at the local emergency room. Our last visit was after he poked himself in the eye with a plant. Scratched cornea. Two weeks of agony.

We met NY's governor, Trace Adkins, and I've talked to a slew of interesting people. We elected Barack Obama.

But all in all, I gotta say I'm ready for a new year. This one's been too weird even for me.

Happy new year and better luck to all in 2009!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Executive Orders: When is Bush's Pen Going to Go Dry?

The Race To The Finish is On...and efforts to slow down the Bush Administration's last minute effort to recreate the nation in its own image are mobilizing.

The big giveaway of 300 thousand acres of Utah wilderness to oil and gas companies is being blocked by a lawsuit, at least temporarily.


The Executive Order is a scary thing in the wrong hands. A president signs an order and, with no checks and balances from anywhere, effects change.

Here's the latest health news...


My view, of course, isn't shared by everyone. In fact I found a blog fretting about what our new "Marxist in Chief" will do once he's sworn in.


I find it remarkable that someone who's attempting to restore a democracy that's been hacked to ribbons is labeled a marxist. Did we call Bush a fascist? It's not a reach.

Fascism is an authoritarian or totalitarian nationalist ideology.[1][2] It is primarily concerned with solving the perceived problems of national decline or decadence, by achieving a millenarian national rebirth, exalting the nation or race above all else, and promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.[3][4][5][6][7] Fascists typically seek to form a mass movement of militants who are willing to engage in violence against their perceived enemies. (courtesy Wikipedia)

Fascists don't like democracy, you argue? Neither does President Bush and his sidekick, Dead Eye Dick.

So the Guy in the Oval Office spends his days adjusting the earplugs so he doesn't hear us howling outside his window and signs signs signs.

Here are some executive orders signed before December. There have been dozens since. And once they're signed, it's not easy to undo them.

This one creates a presidential transition council...but specifically says the candidates must be "major party". An effort to create problems if a third party should become viable?


Can't read the original one this one amends...it was done in the 40s. But it relates to social security numbers and privacy regarding federal agencies...and the amendment knocks out words like "shall" and substitutes "may" and eliminates the word "exclusively". It's sketchy at best.


This one's a bit mind bending...its topic is supposedly reorganizing federal agencies to exempt them from certain labor regulations. But what it does is reclassify the departments of energy, transportation, homeland security, justice and the treasury as agencies whose primary function is intelligence and national security. Whoa. Since when? And what might this reclassification accomplish besides the labor impact?


Are you paying attention? If you're not, don't complain about what happens.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheney Okayed Waterboarding: It's Not Torture

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow doesn't usually stutter. She's the queen of smooth. But she was stuttering with disbelief last night and I can't argue.

The vice president of the United States confirmed, in a taped interview, that he authorized the use of an interrogation technique that we labeled torture after it was used against our soldiers in World War II.

Let me say that another way: the use of waterboarding was called a war crime after World War II. Maddow, clearly beyond outrage, pointed out the people responsible were hanged. Our vice president confidently confirms that he authorized the use of this technique at the prison camp at Guantanamo. He stands by his actions.

A plus B equals...you know. Waterboard equals war crime plus official okay equals...war criminal.
But this one's safe, isn't he? We haven't stood up to any of this yet, why would we start now?

Where is the tidal wave of public anger? Where are the headlines? Where are the editorials calling for him to be indicted? I'm not seeing much. Just for the basic story I had to go to the Seattle Times.


You're not angry yet? You don't feel like a chump? Why don't you look at what our vice president was saying two years ago. At what point do we finally stand up, confront this evil and condemn it? No time to read the whole article? It reports on Cheney's defense of waterboarding as a no-brainer, while reiterating his belief that this country doesn't torture. In 2006. Oh. My. God.


And just in case you're still not angry, please remember that Friday is the day the Bush Administration has quietly offered 300 thousand acres of wilderness in Utah's red rock area for gas and oil companies leases. We voted for change - isn't it time we did something to help create it ourselves? Write!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Bush: This Looks Like a Good Place to Drill

The waning days of the Bush administration are proving to be as horrific as the preceding eight years.

On December 19th, Utah's Redrock wilderness is going on the auction block, courtesy our Fearless Leader.

Oil and gas speculators are invited to bid on drilling rights for 300 thousand acres this Friday.

It was all done in classic Bush/Cheney style....they didn't tell anybody what they were doing. According to the NRDC, the plan was hatched on election day and no one even told the National Parks service what was happening until after it was all agreed upon.

Want to scream? Me, too. Go here and write an email to your legislators instead:


If the auction goes through it won't be easy to reverse those leases. And the new administration shouldn't even have to deal with this garbage. Amazingly, while our economy slides down the chute and no one's reaching for the brake in the White House, the outgoing president and his buddies are reserving their attention for getting in some last minute goodies for their oil pals.

The land up for grabs includes Desolation Canyon, an area proposed for national park status. It's just the latest in a long string of efforts to exploit what's left of our land to get at a finite source of fuel. It's short sighted, it's sneaky and it's just bad policy.

If you agree, make noise. Make a lot of noise.


Why Do Humans Suck So Much?

I'm about ready to give up. Seriously. We've got Bernie Madoff and his Limitless Greed, Hank Paulson and his Tunnel Vision, George Bush, who doesn't seem to notice anything except a shoe winging toward his head. We've got Republicans, we've got Democrats, we've got liberals and conservatives. We have, in my opinion, a really stupid collection of beings that call themselves Americans. And every day I seem to find out that our cruelty, selfishness and sense of entitlement is bigger than I thought.

I was collapsed on the couch last night, soaking in the usually-harmless drug of television entertainment. But there was a show on chimpanzees that I came in on about halfway through. It was Nature's 25th anniversary special: "Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History". These were chimps that have been in advertising, in the movies, in the circus. They've been pets. They've been prisoners in medical labs. And they're now in chimp sanctuaries.
The show ended with the release of some of the chimps into a new island - a place where they could wander with no bars between them and the sky. One ailing chimp couldn't bring himself to step onto the grass. Concrete was all he'd ever known. And one aging chimp immediately clambered up a tree and stayed there.

That was enough to rip my heart, but I found something else was even worse. At one point, the man who'd raised two of the now-rescued chimps was found and invited to come visit the animals. He'd had to give them up and they'd been sold, bred and sent to labs. It had been twenty years since they'd ridden in his car or had an ice cream.

"No way will they remember me," he said as they walked toward the cages. "I don't even remember people after twenty years."

But they did. Their joy in hearing his voice was unmistakable. They let down their guard and behaved in ways the staff had never seen. And I fell apart.

Our arrogance and our biblical belief that all creatures are here to serve us has turned us into monsters. We imprison animals and torture them to make sure our mascara won't make our eyes sting. We enslave creatures for our own trivial wants as well as our medical needs. We even eat them. And they know what is going on.

When my kids were young they helped raise two dairy cows for 4H. And long after they'd given up 4H and moved on to other hobbies, they went back to that farm. When they called their cows' names, those cows came running. They know. Don't tell me how smart animals are or aren't - they're aware. And we act like we don't know.

Just when I think I'm aware of all the rotten things we do, I get slapped in the face with one I'd never considered. We'd better hope there is no heaven and no hell, because what we as a species and particularly as a nation are doing is unforgivable.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Madoff: The Last Straw For Wall Street?

It seems the days of equating "Wall Street job" with prestige and money are as extinct as the dodo bird. Tell someone you work on Wall Street and if they don't sneer or throw vegetables at you, they're at least going to shake their heads. Thank Bernie Madoff. His 50 billion dollar shell game may be the weight that sinks Wall Street's floundering reputation. Even hardened Wall Streeters are professing shock at the size, scope and audacity of Madoff's scheme. He's taking people down with him, and the Dow is expected to be dragged down as well. It's massive.

There's an angle here no one is talking about for fear of being offensive, but I'm wondering.
Did Madoff have a Jewish connection? Did he take advantage of a cultural sense of loyalty to line his own pockets?

One NY Times article quotes Palm Beach investors with names that seem to indicate Jewish backgrounds. A charity in the Boston area dedicated to preserving Jewish cultural identity has lost everything with the collapse of Madoff's fund. Did Madoff, whose fund was built on exclusivity and reputation, take advantage of connections that leaned heavily toward Jews to build his massive scheme?

And if he did, is this the latest kick in the teeth for people who are just a generation removed from the Holocaust?

What the fall of Bernard Madoff proves is that just because someone knows what they're doing, because they appear successful and even show steady growth, it doesn't mean that you can trust them.

The Jews have a word for people like Bernard Madoff: shyster.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What About The News?

The Trib is in trouble. The Times is preparing to mortgage its Manhattan offices. Newspapers are cutting staff, cutting corners and cutting their wrists.

It seems inevitable. The Upstart Internet, the blog, the online magazine all offer the news for free and right at our fingertips whenever we want it.

Take it from an insider - when the papers go, the news will suffer. As someone who's worked for an online paper, a television network affiliate and local and regional radio, I can say with authority that the papers are where most broadcast news get the stories they cover. The other media don't have the time, they don't have the staff - they've never been able to do the in-depth, investigative work that newspapers do with the same regularity that the papers offer.

It's not that broadcast journalists aren't capable. They just aren't given the time. How can you break a story when you've got two others to file that day while you're investigating it? Some broadcast journalists do more than two - I remember doing as many as five in one day when I was a young, energetic TV reporter.

Even now I try to break stories before they make the paper - but by the time I've spent two weeks squeezing in interviews between the daily stories, I'm generally reading about my story in the paper.

Newspapers break the stories. Broadcast news follows up and expands the scope. That's how it's been forever. And once the newspapers are gone, the base of the news foundation will be gone, too. The other news media will adjust, but it'll take time. And the news will be pretty pitiful stuff for awhile. They'll all be cannibalizing each other's stories and fighting for exclusives while news is breaking just a mile down the road. There won't be the staff to cover it.

The trouble isn't just hitting newspapers. NPR announced it's cancelling two programs and laying off 64 employees. Watch the cuts continue in the broadcast world. Good thing Wolf and John re-upped with CNN. They're going to be needed if the rest of the staff ends up with pink slips. Perhaps the CNN i-Report idea is going to be the newsroom of the future. Grab your iPhone, get some pictures and send it to the news. Voila. You're a journalist.

Just remember - it's who, what, when, where, why and how. And never say somebody did the deed until they're convicted. We don't want our citizen journalists to get sued for libel.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Oh, Canada

To my neighbors to the north,

My sympathies. Truly. Your country, for many of us in the lower 48, has always been a symbol of a simpler, more functional place. You have socialized medicine and you're where our young men fled for shelter when Washington looked for human fodder for the Vietnam war. We have a sentimental and totally uninformed belief that it's somehow better in Canada. I know people now who have been frantically planning their repatriation in an effort to leave a country that elected George W. Bush for two terms. And now the news from your part of the continent sounds a lot like what we've been through for the past eight years.

Your government is resisting acknowledging that Canada is in a recession. Like us, your problems have been building for some time and are now are crashing in on you. And sadly, like us, you have a leader who is said to be highly partisan, secretive and clueless. According to what I read, your Prime Minister faced a vote of no confidence next week because his Conservative party has failed to offer an economic stimulus package. And instead of facing the problems, his solution was to shut down Parliament.

You must be reeling. We know the feeling down here, Canada. For eight years, we've watched civil rights erode in the name of national security. We've watched the opposition party frantically try to object, try to create a coalition, and fail. We've acknowledged that our government has been run by a pack of strategists whose goal was personal gain. We went to war to line their pockets with money. They lied to us to make sure we didn't look too closely. Thousands have died. We have watched our standing in the world community crumble, watched our government slap away offers of friendship after we were attacked by terrorist thugs. We watched thousands of our own neighbors wait in horrific conditions for help that was withheld after Hurricane Katrina. We have been ashamed. And we have nursed a long simmering anger.

Finally, finally we have had enough. It took a combination of anger, fear, a war and an economic crisis to finally get this country to pull in a different direction, and that was aided by an opposition candidate who was finally savvy enough to understand how the party in power plays, and be ready for whatever they tried. It worked. And I cannot explain to you the dimensions of the exhalation that swept across this country after election day. Perhaps you felt it where you are.

We are afraid, Canada. Our economy is as bad as it's ever been. The parallels between today and 1929 are inescapable. But for the first time in a very, very long time, we have hope. We believe that our government is headed by people who will be trying their best to turn this sinking ship around as we all start bailing water.

You are where we have been for the past decade, Canada. Don't wait as long as we did to make sure your government is working for you. We wouldn't wish this on our worst enemies, much less our favorite neighbors.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tranmission Transition

The Big Three automakers have come back with their best deal. They drove their own vehicles to DC to present it, leaving the corporate jets behind. They want more money than they first asked for, they're willing to give up their salaries at the top, but they're going to cut thousands of jobs.

This isn't working for me.

I got an email from Michael Moore this morning and he's got a much better idea.

Accept, he says, that the car companies will go through whatever money they get and need more. It's logic. No one's going to buy cars anytime soon.

So, instead, stop making cars. Start manufacturing mass transit and electric cars. Retool and create what we're going to buy or need once we come out of this.

How do companies going broke do it? Instead of giving them money, he proposes a government takeover. Buy them. Put capable auto people in charge with marching orders to put that massive manufacturing machine to work making something that will have value in a new economy.

It's brilliant. Keep people working, keep the revenues those plants generate in taxes coming in through some carefully crafted plan - either real tax dollars or credits to state and local governments.

I wrote to the Obama transition team this morning and passed the idea along. And I can't tell you how amazing it feels to be asked what I think by a president-elect, and know he's actually having people reading the responses and making use of them.

Haven't written to the team yet? Go to change.gov
They're waiting to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Official - December Has Arrived and It's a Recession!

It's taken a year for them to admit it, but the braintrust in Washington is now admitting that we've been in a recession since last December...and that means it's already lasted longer than many past downturns. When will it end? We have to hit bottom first.

Suze Ormon, who I get a big kick out of and whose common sense I admire, predicted the stock market would bottom out at around 8000 when I saw her a couple of months ago. I'll bet she's revised that forecast.

Jim Cramer, the madman of CNBC, is making a lot of 'sell!" noises when he talks about Wall Street and I recently spoke with someone who has done just that. Her broker advised her to pull out whatever she had left and just keep it in cash for awhile. "Wait and see," he said.

My kids, both of whom you might expect to find ensconced in dorms at a college, are each heading to work, with school dropping to a part time activity. It's not because of the economy - their reasons are as individual as they are. But I find myself thinking that perhaps they're doing the right thing - their classmates will be graduating in a couple of years and will very likely be finding themselves doing any job they can get just to make ends meet. At least my kids will be working, hopefully safe on the twin merits of their abilities and seniority.

What about us? We hang on and we hope. It's going to be close. And I take some strange comfort in knowing that as things go from bad to possibly worse, we're all in this together. How can you feel like some kind of cosmic target when everyone you know is facing the same pain?

We will come out of this. Everything is cyclical. And it's this generation's turn to understand what hard times feel like. Perhaps the lessons we learn will make us a better society.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Learned From the Election

Now that the dust has nearly settled (we still don't know about that filibuster-proof Senate yet, do we?) I've realized I've gotten a lot of lessons from the election of 2008. And I'm a big believer in taking note of lessons learned, since if you ignore them they tend to come up over and over.

1. People are easily scared: Hillary's three ayem phone ad was, according to polls, actually effective. Obama was seen as the less-steady hand, the shaking newby who would crack under pressure. Seems pretty silly now, doesn't it? The man's proving to be a rock - and a confident one.

2. Scared people get angry: Once the fear of Obama was spread around thickly enough, people reacted with anger. Who can forget the Republican crowds screaming "terrorist!" "Kill him!" And that anger turned against John McCain when he tried to reassure them they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. And these were his supporters!

3. Scared people will latch onto things that make them feel safer. Conservatives clutched Just Sarah From Wausilla to their hearts. She was young, she was pretty and she was absolutely certain everything was going to be okay. Progressives held Obama equally tight. Ditto. Luckily for Just Sarah, she's not going to be held accountable for this poop soup that used to be our economy. Our president-elect, you must admit, is a brave soul. I wouldn't want to take this job on.

4. Even scared people can be won over. I have some very conservative relatives. One of them will also freely admit to being a racist. So imagine my surprise when, in a recent conversation, he told me he "didn't think too badly of Obama" anymore. "He's certainly smart," he told me, "and he seems to be sincerely trying to fix things. I wish him well and hope he can do it." Score one for the Obama Team.

5. The people in charge don't necessarily know more than I do. It's a holdover from childhood - this assumption that if you're in charge, you must know more than me. You'd think that eight years of George W. Bush would have beaten that out of me. But it took Hank Paulson to do it once and for all. The poor man is clearly in way over his head - he's trying to come up with a rescue plan without a firm handle on what might work and a mandate to take care of old pals....but don't forget to not totally alienate public opinion! Remember that old Star Trek episode where Kirk used logic to short out the bad robot? "You say you are lying, but you tell the truth..." Paulson's conflicting imperatives are forcing a series of epic flip flops and I am expecting to soon see steam coming from his ears as his circuits overheat. I believe this problem is going to take a committee - a bunch of smart people bouncing it around until they come up with a plan...not a unilateral fix that is politically expedient. Score another for the Obama Transition - the team's gelling.

6. The media is ridiculous. Yes, I know. I'm one of them. But really. It's downright embarrassing. Because cable and satellite have created a 24 hour news cycle, the news shows most resemble a bunch of old people sitting around a table hashing and rehashing the same topic as they play canasta. "Is this change or just more of the same?" "Should Obama be keeping a lower profile?" "Is Obama taking charge too soon?" "Which dog will the Obama's get?"
It's the same stuff over and over and over and there's rarely anything new. When there is, everyone pounces on it like a pack of dogs in an alley. Pretty soon it's so mangled there's nothing left but a little bone.

7. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart rock. Jon Stewart is my favorite media watchdog. He's smart, he's willing to take on the people he likes as well as the ones he disagrees with, and he's essentially good hearted. This man brought on the tightly wound Bill O'Reilly and offered him not a tongue lashing, but a cup of cocoa and a teddy bear. It was a dig, but there was an element of sincerity. Stewart's essential warmth (remember him after 9-11) and obvious idealism make him the critic with a heart. And man, does the media need to be watched. Opinion masquerades as news everywhere now.
Maddow has a similar warmth. She may be progressive, she may be snarky, but she's human. When she says she's been waiting years for infrastructure to get sexy, you know she means it - and she's thrilled that it's happening. She's not standing on the sidelines jeering, she's emotionally in the middle of things and talking about things that she believes matter. I can't watch the news much now - it makes me twitch. But Stewart and Maddow still tell me what they're thinking most nights.

8. I Don't Know Much. I never thought I knew much...lots of people had more information and lots more opinions. I've come to realize I know very little - and any opinions I hold are subject to change as more information becomes available. I think the good thing is once you know you don't know much, you're willing to listen and learn. I'm listening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vegan Values Explored

Overall, I think vegans have the right idea. That should be understood up front. It just seems wrong that we should consider ourselves an advanced society and still be killing animals for our food. Worse, killing them under appallingly cruel factory conditions.

But I've got my gripes with vegans, too. And I just spent a lot of time with a lot of them. So I'm venting.

It was a holiday event that will raise funds for a sanctuary for farm animals. It's an ambitious facility, with clearly well cared for animals and devoted caregivers. The event was upscale, designed to satisfy the urban need for style, as many of the sanctuary's supporters only live in the country part time.

There was an enormous tent, dozens of round tables with white linens and pedestal heaters to take the chill off a very cold November day. There were heaping plates of delicious vegan food that could satisfy any gourmet. And there were speakers. There's my first beef, if you'll pardon the expression.

I know these speakers - they're the vanguard of the new veganism. Picture vegan valley girls. Beautiful, bouncy, sassy and hip, they stood at the microphone and extolled the healthy virtues of veganism. I found myself missing the earnest, intellectual appeals from scientists, the emotional rawness of the devoted vegan hippies. Veganism is cool now. I guess it's a good thing for the animals and for the planet, all of which will benefit if more people jump on the vegan bus...but now that the bus is a hybrid, I find myself missing the old VW microbus.

Then there was music. HSO was playing bass and guitar, and he rarely gigs so I was really looking forward to it. Joy Askew was the performer. She's a talented songwriter who really should be far more famous than she is. HSO spent three weeks preparing - learning the songs, fine tuning the sounds, making sure he had it down by heart. I have no doubt the other performers put in similar time, and some of them had to travel quite a way to get there.

They rehearsed at 9 AM that morning, then drove to the tent, where the heat was just being set up. They waited to go on at 2...and waited almost two extra hours because raffles and speakers took far longer than expected. The diners finished their meals. They ate their dessert. And then the band was announced.

As they began to play, everyone headed for the exit.

No, they weren't awful. In fact, they were terrific. But these people had been outside all afternoon, had eaten, had won whatever prizes they were going to win, had listened to too many speeches and they'd had enough. They were leaving. So a few of us stood and gaped as the tent nearly cleared out while musicians who had donated their time and talents played to peoples' backs.

The event's organizer belatedly realized what she'd done and ran to the microphone twice to encourage people to stay, sit down and enjoy the music. But it was too late. So the band played, a bunch of pros who are used to people treating musicians like wallpaper. And a handful of people enjoyed a terrific show despite the band's frozen fingers and steamy breath. Another musician who wasn't playing that day was appalled....he watched the entire scene in disbelief as people who stayed displayed manners that would have gotten them thrown out of a corner bar.

I was angry. Joy Askew is a headliner. She's played with Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel. Any event that gets her is lucky. The musicians were treated like an afterthought.

And therein lies my complaint with many vegans. They have boundless compassion for the animals. But far too often, their compassion stops there.
They can be strident, they can be rude, they can be thoughtless - but if they're helping the animals, they are confident of their virtue.

Compassion doesn't stop with four legged creatures. Or it shouldn't. And good manners may be old fashioned, but I think they're what makes living in society possible.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanks for Your Efforts to Create a Bipartisan Coalition in This Time of Crisis

This is what I found in my email inbox today. No comment.

An urgent message from our Townhall Sponsor, The National Republican Trust PAC

Dear Townhall Reader:

D-Day has begun.

With your help and the help of almost 50,000 other Americans, we at the National Republican Trust PAC - also known as GOPtrust.com - have begun our TV assault in Georgia against Barack Obama and the left-wing Democrats who want total control over Congress.

Our new TV ad has begun to run across Georgia exposing Obama's plans.

As you know, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is fighting to keep his Georgia seat in GOP hands.

It is critical he does so. Chambliss will be the key Senate vote in stopping Obama's radical agenda.

But Sen. Chambliss faces an incredibly stiff challenge from his opponent Jim Martin.

Just last week Obama, Chuck Schumer and Washington Democrats poured almost $1 million into the state to defeat him.

They are bussing in thousands of "organizers" to snatch this election from the GOP.

This is why our campaign is so vitally important.

Fox News analyst Dick Morris says this election is vitally important to all of us across the country.

Morris says if Obama wins the Georgia seat, he will ram through Congress a radical agenda on taxes, guns, abortion - he can even shut down talk radio!

Dick Morris says we at the National Republican Trust PAC "are leading the fight to save Chambliss and keep Obama from getting a filibuster-proof Senate."

Dick says this won't be easy for Chambliss because the Obama camp has more money and they are experts at voter turn-out - the key to winning this race.

But Dick says we can still defeat Martin and Obama.

We need your help today to do it!

Please donate to our cause by Going Here Now

See our new TV ad exposing Obama and Martin - Go Here Now

Thank you.

Scott Wheeler
Executive Director

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I never wanted to get a computer. I suspected it was not advancement at all, but a new "convenience" that would prove to be far more trouble than it was worth. But we wouldn't figure it out until we were so used to it that it was too late to get rid of it.

I was so right.

I have replaced sound cards, talked through geek sessions as some stranger across the country took control of my computer and tried to figure out why it hated me.
I've watched people link two computers together, switching back and forth as they transferred information from one to another.

I've watched my Handsome Significant Other, generally a sweet and gentle man, turn into a raving lunatic as the technology in his studio burps, rattles or wheezes and refuses to show him why.

And this week, I seriously considered tossing my computer out a second story window.

I woke and went to my office, prepared to go to work, and discovered that I couldn't get online. Not at all. I'm working at home temporarily, and my computer is on a network with HSO's downstairs. I don't like to mess with his stuff...he's a Mac guy and I've got a PC and I might get PC cooties on his cool computer. But he was fast asleep, having been working most of the night.
So I plowed ahead because without a computer and an online connection, I cannot work.

I don't get newspapers - I read them online. I type scripts, voice stories and do interviews all through my computer, then use the internet to feed them to the station's ftp site. It's all smoke, mirrors and remote magic. But there was no magic at my house and suddenly I was stopped cold.

First, I had to call my internet provider, Time Warner Cable. I have learned the secret of their automated operator....when she insists on calmly walking me through a repair instead of letting me talk to a human, I say "customer representative." Those two words are like "alakazam!"...they silence the recorded assistant and she meekly connects me. Or she used to.

Time Warner has caught on. Now when I said "customer representative!" her response was a placid, "Well, I realize you want to speak with a customer representative, but I think we should continue. I think we're on our way to solving your problem."

She THINKS? Really? Now THIS is innovation.

Well, I got past her with a second "CUSTOMER REPRESENTATIVE!" I don't know if it was what I said or how I said it. I know I wouldn't have wanted to talk to me anymore.

So I got a perfectly nice human, she told me to get on the floor, crawl behind the desk, pull out every plug I could find, run upstairs, turn off my computer, run back downstairs, turn the modem back on, then run around and cluck like a chicken until I ran out of breath. Okay. She didn't tell me to do that. But that's pretty much what I did.

And we determined, after 45 minutes, that the problem was the router.

That's the little box that enables us to both connect to the same internet cable. So I called work, explained what was going on, apologized profusely, and drove half an hour to the nearest store that carried such things.

Most of the ones they had were wireless. Apparently they don't want us to use wires anymore.
I'm not going for that one, thank you. You already roped me into this computer thing. That's enough for me.

I came home and had to wake up HSO. The new router had an installation CD and I couldn't figure out how to open up the CD disc tray on the Mac. I felt pretty awful waking him out of a sound sleep, but I was way late and I honestly didn't want to install a damned thing on his computer without him knowing about it.

He stumbled downstairs, looked at the wreckage that used to be his office, looked back at me and just said, "Really?" I apologized again.

So not only does it turn out that the Mac didn't need the CD...there's a key to open that tray right on the keyboard, though it's not marked in any way that I might recognize. Golly, those Macs are so darned intuitive.

So HSO got the new router up and running, we both were miraculously back on the internet, I thanked him profusely and ran upstairs to go back to work.

And then the printer went on the fritz.

That second story window is looking really good right now. Just don't know if it'll be the computer or me flying out of it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh, Never Mind.

At the end of September Chicken Little announced the sky was falling. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wanted money - a lot of money - to prevent catastrophe on Wall Street. Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies, Paulson suggested. No strings, no questions, no oversight.

Congress, in one of the few times it managed to overcome its lack of a spine, said no.
No way.

But as Wall Street continued its free fall, it was clear Washington couldn't stand by and do nothing. So they passed the Troubled Asses Regulation Pogrom. TARP was given 700 billion dollars to buy up "illiquid assets"...junk, in other words, that no one wanted to get stuck with. But nothing was going to be done for homeowners across the country who were losing their homes. It would, they hoped, trickle down.

That never did work, but the country is still so enamored of Ronald Reagan that they won't admit it.

So now it's November. Wall Street is still crashing, we have a new president-elect, our outgoing president wants to stay the course, and Paulson has already spent much of the money. AIG's got to be happy - they've gotten a healthy infusion of cash. Of course they're frittering it away and giving the 24 hour news cycle fuel for another turn.

Paulson says the original strategy isn't working. We noticed. And he's already got a whole lot less money to spend than he did. Now he's going to give it to banks. Our president-elect wants an auto bailout. The guy sitting in the Oval Office until January doesn't.

I'm no fan of Detroit, but it doesn't seem like we can afford to let an industry that employs three million people go broke. They've got us over a barrel.

Have you looked at real estate ads in California lately? Look at houses for rent. Look at houses for sale. See what this really looks like. "Live in the style you're used to - for less!" promises one ad. "$200/month off NOW!" says another. "Good credit required...income of 100K verified before approval." It's an economy sliding out of control. It's worse in some places than others, but it's going to spread.

And Hank Paulson's the guy holding the money. Unfortunately, not only does he not know what he can do to help, he seems to be one of those people who won't listen to anyone else. So we'll just keep sliding until January, then hope the Obama transition team has come up with a brilliant plan to help us dig in. And if he has an idea and Congress fights him, there's going to have to be an outcry so loud that they don't dare fight us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tales From the Trenches

Time out for a reality check. Yes, I'm optimistic about this president. Yes, I believe he will do all he can in tough times. And yes, I have my doubts that things are going to get better for most of us anytime soon.

I am anxiously watching every bit of news pertaining to banks' willingness to renegotiate mortgages with people who are hanging on to their homes by their teeth. I am one of them. So far, my bank can't do anything for me - I haven't missed a payment, I have a decent interest rate. No one could predict that the economy would tank and money we budgeted for has not materialized.

I am sorely tempted to stop paying. My daily stress would drop instantly, I'd have money for other bills (and no, I don't have tremendous debt besides the mortgage - that's the one that's killing me), and my bank would perhaps be willing to work with me if I was in default. Of course, I could also lose my home and everything I've invested in it. Catch 22.

I know a retired person who has lost his life savings - a substantial sum. He paid off his home, and now is looking at a reverse mortgage so he could have money for necessary expenses. He doesn't want to do it - he wanted to leave his family a home when he is gone.

I know a man who would sell a car to get some ready cash - no one will buy it. No one CAN buy it.

I know a man whose finances are in good order - but he's scared to death that his many years of service at one company makes him a target for a cost-cutting layoff. He makes more than others with less experience.

I know a family that's quietly paid the taxes on a less fortunate relative's home for years. And now they're wondering how long they'll continue to do it. What happens when those relatives have to move? Where will they go?

These are troubling times. There are thousands of other stories - millions of them. And there are going to be more. It's not an American depression - it's a global depression. And it's hard to see how long it will last and what will start to pull us out of it.

The only thing I'm certain of is that we will have to all be pulling together.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boo Hoo Detroit

Yet another American moneymaker wants a massive federal bailout. The American automakers have been behind the curve for years. And now they're in trouble.

We're supposed to feel sorry for them.

While Japan was making hybrids that were snapped up like hotcakes, Detroit was placidly cranking out gas guzzlers - giving the market what it liked right now instead of preparing for what it was going to want next.

Dodge trucks are Ram Tough. And they suck fuel down like drunks on a bender. Soccer moms need their minivans. Men with self esteem issues drove SUVs built for the Amazon down four lane highways. And then gas spiked toward five dollars a gallon and everyone stopped driving.

And Cadillac is still trying to convince us that what women want is a car that can go faster than anything else on the road. Zero to sixty in .8 seconds isn't sexy anymore folks. Not when you can't afford to fill the tank.

No one's buying cars. Either they can't afford to, or they can't get credit even if they're willing.

And because the auto industry employs so many people, we can't afford to let them sink.

But boy do they deserve to.

They've been late on everything. Late to address fuel economy. Late to address pollution. Late to see what everyone else saw - that the days of the boat on wheels is over.

So they're pleading for help and without that help (and watch them - I guarantee that even with a massive cash infusion this'll be next anyway) there will be massive layoffs. Because god forbid they should take pay cuts at the top, increase the efficiency of their operations or invest in vehicles that might suit the new market....they'll just close factories and lay off workers.

Chevy has the Volt, you say? Yes indeed...by what - 2010? And the company admits that it won't make money. It's too expensive to build. Where was the investment in research and development? It should have been happening since the 70s when we saw the handwriting on the wall.

So little startups are showing Detroit how it can be done. That strange little vehicle pictured here is an Aptera. It's electric. It's already cruising the streets of California and company head Tony Kirton tells me he has an ambitious goal of small factories all over the country building Aptera's that run on electric or fuel cells.

It's not cheap. None of this is. But it will, just like any new technology, become cheaper as we learn more about it and find better ways to create it.

America's car makers, just like America's financial markets, have been gluttons. They've been greedily sweeping in all the dollars they could based on current demand and not preparing for the future.

We're the ants...and the grasshoppers are now demanding we keep them alive as winter comes on.

I say if you want to eat, work for it. Show us your books, show us how you're changing your business model and show us your plan for cars that meet the environmental standards that will be in place in thirty years.

No free rides, Detroit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And Now the Analysis Begins

Our president-elect has chosen his chief of staff. Rahm Emannuel is a Washington insider. That's got the media tongue's wagging..."Is this the change he promised?"

No sooner had Obama been declared the winner than my inbox began to fill with letters from people with agendas, urging me to be sure and contact him to push for a list of changes that runs the gamut from universal health care to safer chew toys for puppies. Nancy Pelosi is already making up her to-do list and Senate Republicans are promising to stand firm and push back on anything the new president proposes.

The president of Iraq is filming an obnoxious little statement saying he's sure that our new president will be "flexible" on a timetable for withdrawal.

Give the man a little room!

I voted for Obama because I believe I can trust his judgement. His stated agenda - the economy, renewable energy, health care, foreign relations and the war in Iraq - fit with what I believe are our top issues. And the actions he proposed during his campaign sounded reasonable and appropriate.

Yes, we should pay attention. President Obama is an unknown quantity - we don't know what happens to a candidate once he's had all the security briefings and given the full picture of the reality of trying to get things done in Washington.

But I refuse to start picking apart every move he makes before he's had more than a couple of nights' sleep as the president-elect.

I intend to sit back, breathe, and watch. I am confident I will be satisfied with what I see. I have to - or the joy I felt at his victory means nothing.

It tickled me no end that the head of ICE quietly disappeared as soon as the election was over. The cockroaches are beginning to flee as the curtains are pulled back.

And I'm simply astounded by the GOP dogs turning on Sarah Palin. Do I doubt that there's truth in what they're saying? Not really. But I also think it's a perfect illustration of the dysfunctionality of the Republican machine. They can't accept that they ran a bad campaign, that they distorted their candidate until the country couldn't accept him, that they couldn't overcome the country's utter disgust with the state of the nation under the current administration. So they're going to try to blame Palin. And maybe try to be sure to torpedo any thoughts she's entertaining about running in the future.

Or wait - maybe you have to think in a more twisted fashion to understand the strategy. The leaks were made by Republican campaign workers to Fox News, their biggest apologist.

Maybe they're trying to make us feel sorry for her. "Give the woman a break - they were SO mean to her after the 2008 election!"

Governance by manipulation. A time honored Republican strategy. No thanks.

Get to work, President Obama. And let me know how I can help.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Really? I'm Not Dreaming?

I'm trying really hard to adjust here - I've been cynical about the resident of the White House for so very long that I think it's going to take me awhile to accept that I don't have to be anymore.

Barack Obama won. Those may well be the most incredible three words I've ever written.

I spent the night covering regional elections, so I was with political animals. Even they were overwhelmed as the map clearly showed Obama heading for a victory. I don't think I'm capable of full paragraphs today, so here are some impressions from an incredible night:

My 21 year old son, who often despairs of the world, gleefully tell me on the phone that it is just "un-bleeping-believable!!!"

My 19 year old daughter's voice on the phone cheering: "I was with a crowd of people and I just saw history being made! Way to make my first vote count, huh?"

John McCain's graciousness as he conceded.

Jesse Jackson's tear-stained face at the stadium in Chicago.

My own tears as Obama spoke to the crowd. I feel like I've woken from a nightmare. Maybe I belong in this country after all.

The spontaneous celebration at the gates of the White House. What must George Bush be thinking?

I spoke to one of my favorite local politicians who is a student of the system as well as a member of it: "Was this a revolution tonight?" "I don't know if it was a revolution," he said with a grin, "but it sure feels good!"

Amen, brother.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is Democracy in Action?

Here's the latest from the polls in one liberal enclave...it'll be interesting to see how this compares to the rest of the country:


Why do we even have to be concerned about voter fraud? Don't we live in a democracy? Doesn't one person, one vote form part of the foundation of our political system? What's going on here?

I'm hearing too many stories of people who aren't going to get to vote - and not because they're not eligible or didn't register. This New York Times article discusses the problem...it isn't about voting machine glitches, fraudulent registrations or lost absentee ballots...though all of that happens as well...it's about keeping people away from the polls.


Here's a story from CNN's IReport on a guy who went to vote and discovered his registration had been lost in the mail:


And here's a book entirely devoted to the subject...


I'm not pointing fingers at one party - this garbage is going on all over the country. My cousin, who supports McCain, registered for an absentee ballot because he's disabled. The ballot never arrived. He checked with the election board in New Mexico and was told that because he'd been sent a ballot, even if he didn't get it, he couldn't go vote in person. Bottom line: he can't vote.
He's outraged.

There are stories out of West Virginia that show some machines automatically flipped votes for Obama to McCain. Their solution is to recalibrate the machines. There are other stories of machines that will cancel an Obama vote if you vote the straight ticket after casting your presidential vote. Not a rumor...confirmed on Snopes. You must vote each candidate individually to be sure your vote is counted correctly.


It amazes me that the country seems to accept that our president stole the election in 2000, stacked the deck in his favor in 2004, has mandated new voting machines, many of which eliminate backup paper ballots, and we're placidly sitting around, wondering if maybe the person who gets the most votes this year won't win yet again.

CNN has a place where you can make noise if you think your vote isn't being counted or recorded properly.


And Mother Jones (been keeping everyone honest for years, bless 'em) is watching and counting.


Obama's campaign isn't sitting on their hands. They've got a link and a phone number to report if you have trouble voting. And right now that's our only defense - making noise if we're not allowed to vote.


But it may be that this country has reached the point where we have to call in UN supervisors to guarantee a fair election. Wouldn't that just be ironic.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What's Wrong With Using Your Head?

Barack Obama's been doing the last-minute media blitz, and it's been a great opportunity to get into his head a little. All the speeches in the world won't tell you what one good interview will.

Here's what I see: He's clearly an ambitious guy - no one who wasn't would run the godawful gauntlet our election process has become. And he's organized - you can tell that from the descriptions reporters have of his staff...they can, at a moment's prodding, spill over with every fact, figure and possible remedy for every rumor of election suppression that comes up while maintaining a calm facade of optimism. As Dana Bash said on CNN, "They KNOW what's going on."

He's not a great off-the-cuff raconteur: his scripted jokes in NYC were hilarious - but his attempts to tell a joke during an interview sometimes fall a little flat. But he likes to laugh and does so easily.

He's thoughtful, he's measured in his answers and Handsome Significant Other noticed one important thing as we watched Obama speak with Rachel Maddow last night (by the way - I want HER if I ever have to put together a softball team!): Obama loves this stuff. He clearly relishes the problem-solving aspects of being president. His answers on issues are not emotional - they reflect a mind that circles a problem, checks out every angle, considers the possible results of each solution and finally settles on the one that seems to best suit the situation.

I'd bet money I'm right. All the evidence is there - his unflappable demeanor which spreads to his campaign staff ( dubbed "No Drama Obama" by the press), his choice of a campaign director who has created a noiseless engine for victory using computers and cellphones as well as good old enthusiasm, the campaign's clear attempts to stay on message and not descend into the negative campaigning hole that swallows candidates alive, Obama's constant use of reason instead of emotion to try to get his message across.

Here's a perfect example: John McCain and Sarah Palin in particular whip up the Republican crowds to a frenzy by bashing the Democratic ticket. The crowds respond with boos, shouts of 'terrorist' and 'kill him'. Palin doesn't miss a beat. McCain finally had to stop a woman as she clutched the microphone and told him that Obama was a Muslim. Flip that view...look at Obama this week as he spoke before a cheering crowd. He said McCain's name and the crowd started to boo. His response was lightning quick. He told them he didn't need them to boo...he needed them to vote. Emotions defused, rerouted, and turned into positive energy.

So the guy's smart. He's got a logical bent. Why, oh why, America, is that so threatening to some of you? The people who love Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin cheer when they call Obama 'elite'. What is elite about him? He doesn't have more money that John McCain. He doesn't have as many houses or cars as John McCain. He went to an Ivy League school, but McCain went to private boarding schools and Annapolis. That's pretty elite. McCain was a Navy brat, traveling from school to school. Obama was a kid without a father raised by his mother and grandparents.

So if Obama's background doesn't make him elite, what is it? I submit that it's his intelligence.

McCain is no dummy - I hear he's a bright guy and an avid reader. But his appeal to voters is always emotional - "my friends," he calls us as his campaign tries to either make us fearful or mistrustful of his opponent. It's a classic appeal to the emotions and when he ventures into substance, it's usually to criticize particulars of Obama's plans for health care or economic relief or foreign policy.

Obama's appeal, at first, was also purely emotional. He spoke to the hope for unity, the hope for a better country and our hopes for the future. When his campaign fell flat was when it went negative, but they seemed to figure that out and used it sparingly. (You must remember my vantage is from a state that is considered a lock for the Democrats...what people are experiencing in swing states may be very, very different).

But every emotional appeal seems delivered from a higher place - a vantage just a bit above the usual which is looking farther into the distance and taking the wider view. Obama, for instance, won't bash Republicans. Why? Because, he told Rachel Maddow, we're going to need them to help rebuild this country. He says there are many moderate Republicans who might be willing to work with Democrats so long as they're not actively pushed away. He wants to invite their participation. He's not expecting their vote - he's looking past the election to the need to work cooperatively after the election. He's the kind of guy I can see accepting a position in a McCain administration because it would be best for the country. That's putting your head before your emotions...and that's a quality I think may be the best medicine this country could get.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Obama Variety Show

I can't help it - I just keep wondering what the Obama campaign has scheduled for that half hour of programming they bought.
We're told it won't be a speech. Saturday Night Live (huzzah! Relevant again after all these years!) did some great song and dance routines culminating in "Solid Like Barack." Cute.
So let's give this some thought. What could Obama, Biden and the people who love them do?
Well, I just saw a terrific pro-Obama piece of video from director Ron Howard.


That could certainly be included. And then there's that oldie but goodie, Will I Am's pro-Obama music video:


But I'd love to see somebody do a number from "Hair"...there are so many to choose from.
But too many people wouldn't understand it. Cause if there's one thing this country lacks, it's a sense of humor about itself.

I got this email this morning and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Dear Red States:

We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own
country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us.
In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii,
New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan,
Illinois and all the Northeast (and it looks like Colorado, too). We
believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to
the people of our country of "Nuevo California."

To sum it up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the
slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get
the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft.
You get WorldCom. We get Harvard and Princeton. You get Ole' Miss. We
get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get
Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to pay the red
states fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than
the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a
bunch of single moms. Please be aware that Nuevo California will be
pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens
back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your
evangelicals. They're apparently more patriotic, as well as more
willing to send their children to kill and be killed on Bush's and his
corporate crony's behalves. We do wish you success in Iraq , and hope
that the WMD's turn up, but we're not willing to spend our resources
on Bush's Quagmire.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of
80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the
pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95
percent of America's quality wines, 90 percent of all cheese, 90
percent of the high tech industry, most of U.S. low-sulfur coal, all
living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy League and Seven
Sister schools, plus Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT. Not to mention a
whole bunch of brilliant artists and cultural "mavericks." With the
Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent
of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92
percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes,
90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern Baptists,
virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones
University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood
and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38 percent of those in the Red states believe
Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent believe life is
sacred (until a child is born, of course, then it doesn't much
matter) unless we're discussing the war, the death penalty or gun
laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that
Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy bastards
believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that
dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

Good luck,
Blue States

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Acting Our Age?

This sure is a young country. It must be - because the people in it act like we're choosing the most popular kid in class - not the president.

If I like my guy better, the philosophy appears to be, all is fair in attempts to make sure everyone agrees with me.

There's the pathetic story of the McCain volunteer who made up an attack against her. There are stories coming in indicating that the vote won't be counted fairly or accurately. And there are those pesky campaign signs.

Ours was stolen from our front yard this week. I live in a town that is overwhelmingly supporting Obama and it seemed a bit like preaching to the choir to put a sign in the yard, but it also seemed important to put our yard where our hearts are. All the signs around town disappeared this week. Apparently some McCain supporter believed that if you took our signs, we wouldn't be sure who to vote for. I must admit I'm reconsidering now, Mr. or Ms. Thief. Thanks for your help.

This is bipartisan idiocy. I have a relative who lives on the other side of the country in an equally Democratic community. He is retired. He supports McCain. He has a bumper sticker on his car saying so. His car has been keyed and finally the sticker was ripped off. He wears a McCain hat. He was accosted in a parking lot recently by a man who swore at him and told him where he could put his vote (while pointing to the appropriate part of his own anatomy).

The increasing hysteria from the GOP as McCain appears to be behind in the polls isn't just ear-splitting - it's disturbing. And the message the Obama began the campaign with, hope, has been distorted by many of his supporters into salvation.

McCain's not my choice for president, but I truly do not believe he is evil or even a bad person. I disagree with his political philosophy and I think it's the wrong choice to lead this country into the future. Obama's views are more aligned with mine but I don't kid myself that he's some kind of messiah. He is, I hope, a decent guy with an open mind who will bring intelligence and a spirit of cooperation to the White House. But he's been nominated by what I believe is essentially a corrupt political system, so he has to have played the game to a degree to get where he is. The compromises McCain has made to win the nomination are obvious - candidate McCain doesn't agree with Senator McCain on many fundamental views. Obama has no doubt made similar bargains with the devil. They don't let you run unless you do.

So it's frightened people looking for a guru to show them how to pull the country together who invest these two men with some sort of magical power. And anything they can do to tear down the opponent, even symbolically, makes them feel they're helping bring their guy a step closer to that all-important victory.

Stealing and lying are no big deal when they're for a good cause, right?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Must the World Think of Us?

I've been wondering as I look at reports on Google Analytics that tell me people all over the world have read this blog - what must they think?
Not about me personally - chances are a reader in Micronesia wouldn't feel much different than my next door neighbor. But what about America?
Until just a few years ago I'd never really left the country. Not for lack of desire - it was lack of opportunity and lack of funds. But finally, as a gift to my newly 18 year old son, I hopped a plane and we explored Paris, Rome and some of the small hill towns between Rome and Florence.
It was life changing.
I never considered myself parochial. I've been to most of the states in the US. I've been to Canada (and loved it). I always knew there was a much larger world beyond this country and I longed to get to know it. But I didn't know. I really didn't.
The sense of history, the thrill of hearing everyone around you speak a language you barely understand, the mind shift that occurs when you are truly in a strange land (no matter how Westernized), the chance to sit and watch human beings living a life much like your own, yet somehow very different; it thrilled me and left me often gaping stupidly or grinning like an idiot.
I like my country. It's been good to me and my family. But I'm horrified by the latest GOP campaign tactic - pointing out the 'real' America as opposed to the rest of America.
Jon Stewart handled it beautifully this week - he was clearly offended and he had every right to be. New York City, that hotbed of liberal elitists, is where America suffered its worst terrorist attack ever. And to say that New Yorkers aren't 'real' Americans, to imply that only small town conservatives qualify as 'real' Americans, is to spit on Ground Zero and every family that lost someone in that attack.
So we're fighting among ourselves...not the Blue and Gray anymore, but the Blue and the Red. And our friends around the world, as well as our enemies or those who just don't trust us, are watching us squabble like kids at a toybox. We look immature. We look petty. And we are.
I'm tired of hearing cheerleaders for divisiveness. I don't want to hear any more booing, jeering, no more pep rallies for hate and fear.
I am an American and I want to be able to be proud when I say that. It's time to start acting our age.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around - Or, Welcome to the New Depression

I'm immersed in economy stories right now. Local communities are trying to draw up proposed budgets and no matter how careful they've been in the past, they're going to be hurting. And if they haven't been careful, it's a bloodbath.

One city did a long-overdue revaluation this past year. The timing is proving to be awful, as many property owners face as much as a 14 percent hike in their taxes because of it.

It's worse in another city - they discovered that they've been overcharging commercial landowners for more than a decade. If those taxpayers sue, the city will go bankrupt. And whether they sue or not, the residential property taxes have to go up to where they should have been all along. Initially, that meant a 25 percent tax increase. The mayor knew that was unconscionable, so he slashed the budget to the bone and got it down to 8.5.

Then there's the housing crunch. Values are dropping, salaries aren't rising and people who bought homes they could barely (or just plain couldn't) afford once the economy crashed and some sources of income dried up are hanging on by their fingernails. Foreclosure counseling programs will tell you to start talking to your bank about restructuring your loan before you miss a payment. But good luck. Banks, even banks that are comfortably nestled in the loving arms of the feds, won't talk to you if you haven't missed a payment.

Catch 22.

HSO and I went to the UN last week to attend a black tie event honoring philanthropists. And even the Beautiful People are worried.

"What," a doctor who's travelled the globe to do good, "happens to giving when the money dries up?"

What indeed. It's called a depression for a very good reason, not the least of which is its emotional impact on everyone involved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Perception is Everything

We don't just watch presidential debates anymore. We watch, we watch other people watch, we watch a graph show us how independent voters react, we watch news people tell us how they did and how we think it went.

I watched the last debate. It was a tough choice, as our inattentiveness apparently torpedoed Joe Torre's chances to go to the World Series with his Dodgers. I feel bad about that.

But it felt important to know how John McCain and Barack Obama would handle this last face to face meeting. And I know what I thought, but I was amazed how much more information I got thanks to the voracious appetite of the 24 hour news cycle.

CNN's roundtable of experts, many of whom I enjoy thoroughly, were unanimous - this was McCain's best debate yet. Obama, they said, was 'flat' and 'professorial.'

But as the polls of viewers came in, the tone changed. Yes, McCain had some good moments and started off strong, but polls (in their infinitely important way) clearly showed that voters walked away perceiving Obama as the stronger candidate. His numbers improved, while McCain's fell yet again. And then the talk began about why that might be.

"Those reaction shots killed him," I heard.

That's my opinion, too. McCain has the unfortunate habit of looking angry even when he's trying to smile. His 'fighter' persona comes across as hostile. He widened his eyes in mock shock on a few occasions, and it triggered memories of every angry, closed-minded discussion I ever had with my father. I loved my dad, but I didn't enjoy those discussions and I instinctively cringe from that body language.

Obama's 'professorial' demeanor was fine with me. He appears steady and deliberate and very, very difficult to rattle. His temper flared briefly just for a moment or two, but I've said before that I like that - I want to know he CAN get angry, I just want him to have it under control. He did.

And what about those stupid graphs we watched as the debate went on? Women clearly were happier with what they were hearing from the Democrat. And men? What were they doing? Those lines were all over the place on several occasions...like they were grabbing for a snack and hit the button by accident, or maybe playing with the knob to watch the lines move. It seemed to have no relation to what was being said. What those lines did was distract me from what the candidates were saying. I don't need another source to tell me what people are thinking. This isn't politics by committee - when we go in that voting booth we'll each be totally alone.

Today we'll see what the pundits say. Their initial enthusiasm for McCain will be tempered by the fact that voters apparently didn't agree with them. I think McCain did a fine job, as good as he's capable of doing. He made some points that I agreed with, or at least understood his point of view. But his barely repressed anger, his dogged refusal to give up a point when it's been answered time and time again and his insistence that he knows what to do...when I'm convinced this situation is so complex that right now NO ONE knows exactly what will work, made the difference between the candidates clear.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And If Things Aren't Bad Enough...

how about a crowd control device that can fry you? Here are lyrics from an old Kate Bush song, Experiment IV.

We were working secretly
For the military.
Our experiment in sound,
Was nearly ready to begin.
We only know in theory
What we are doing:
Music made for pleasure,
Music made to thrill.
It was music we were making here until

They told us
All they wanted
Was a sound that could kill someone
From a distance.
So we go ahead,
And the meters are over in the red.
It's a mistake in the making.

Army Orders Pain Ray Trucks; New Report Shows 'Potential for Death'
For $25 Million, Army Buys System That Drives Off Rioters With Microwave-Like Beam
Oct. 11, 2008


After years of testing, the Active Denial System -- the pain ray which drives off rioters with a microwave-like beam -- could finally have its day. The Army is buying five of the truck-mounted systems for $25 million. But the energy weapon may face new hurdles, before it's shipped off to the battlefield; a new report details how the supposedly non-lethal blaster could be turned into a flesh-frying killer.

The contract for the pain ray trucks is "expected to be awarded by year's end," Aviation Week notes. "A year after the contract is signed, the combination vehicle/weapons will start be fielded at the rate of one per month."

It's been a very long time coming. As we've previously reported, there have been calls to deploy the Active Denial System in Iraq going back to 2004. But it's always been delayed for legal, political, and public relations reasons. Anything that might be condemned as torture is political dynamite. Interestingly, the version being bought is not the full-size "Version 2," but a containerized system known as Silent Guardian, which Raytheon have been trying to sell for some time. They describe Silent Guardian as "roughly 1/3 the size and power of the other Active Denial Systems," and quote it's range as "greater than 250 meters." The larger system has a range somewhere in excess of 700 meters.

Silent Guardian weighs a shade over 10,000 pounds all up, and will be mounted on an "armored ruggedized HEMTT [Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck]."

The announcement arrives on the same day as a new report from less-lethal weapons expert Dr. Jürgen Altmann that analyzes the physics of several directed energy weapons, including Active Denial, the Advanced Tactical Laser (used as a non-lethal weapon), the Pulsed Energy Projectile (a.k.a. "Maximum Pain" laser) and the Long Range Acoustic Device (a.k.a. "Acoustic Blaster").

Dr. Altmann describes the Active Denial beam in some detail, noting that it will not be completely uniform; anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the center will experience more heating than someone at the edge. And perhaps more significant is his thorough analysis of the heating it produces -- and the cumulative effect if the target does not have the chance to cool down between exposures. In U.S. military tests, a fifteen-second delay between exposures was strictly observed; this may not happen when the ADS is used for real.

"As a consequence, the ADS provides the technical possibility to produce burns of second and third degree. Because the beam of diameter 2 m and above is wider than human size, such burns would occur over considerable parts of the body, up to 50% of its surface. Second- and third-degree burns covering more than 20% of the body surface are potentially life-threatening  due to toxic tissue-decay products and increased sensitivity to infection  and require intensive care in a specialized unit. Without a technical device that reliably prevents re-triggering on the same target subject, the ADS has a potential to produce permanent injury or death. "

This potential hazard need not be a show-stopper -- existing less-lethals, such as plastic bullets and tear gas, can also be fatal under some circumstances (and I'm not even going to get into the argument about Tasers).

Dr. Altmann notes that "the present analysis has not found convincing arguments that the ADS would be immoral or illegal in each foreseeable circumstance," and that acceptance will depend very much on how it is used. If the ADS prevents small boats from approaching a U.S. vessel without harming anyone, then it will be seen as a humane option. If it is used to clear protesters out of the way it may be seen differently.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Justice is still has a reported interest in a "hand-held, probably rifle-sized, short range weapon that could be effective at tens of feet for law enforcement officials." That's just one of the likely domestic applications of Active Denial technology which are likely to follow if the Army's experiment with ADS is successful. A lot of people will be watching this one very closely.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

There now - doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talk About Your Unfortunate Typos

"Osama" for president? That's what voters in a county neighboring New York's capital city saw on their ballots when they got them this week. Rensselaer County elections officials say it was just an error...certainly not an attempt to sway those voters.


I'd love to take them at their word, but 'b' and 's' aren't exactly neighbors on the keyboard, and it's just such a conveniently devastating change to replace the Democratic nominee with America's most hated terrorist.

It's bad timing, coming on the heels of a Republican campaign that nearing slipped over the edge into hate-mongering. Lou Dobbs, he of the blindingly white teeth and the conviction that illegal immigrants are to blame for every problem in this country, tore into the Obama campaign for not more forcefully rebuking Congressman John Lewis who compared the McCain tactics of the past week to the hate spread by racist legend George Wallace.

Obama downplayed the incident, but anyone watching the screaming rallies led by ultra right cheerleader Sarah Palin could see the danger. Crowds yelled "string him up" and "terrorist!" and Palin nodded and continued. It was left to John McCain to grab the mike from one fear-crazed woman and tell her that no, Senator Obama isn't an Arab, isn't a terrorist, is a decent Christian man who loves his country.

It clearly scared McCain's camp when his supporters booed him in response. And if "Mr. Independent" couldn't recognize the danger, at least McCain did.

Now he's back to the "We can do it!" school of campaigning, a place where he's more effective and more comfortable, and a lot less inflammatory.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Fellow Prisoners?

I have a growing concern about the GOP campaign. A couple of concerns, actually - ones I hadn't even considered until recently.

The more I watch John McCain, the more I see a very, very angry man. There's a thinly covered hostility when he debates Barack Obama. Sometimes it's not even veiled..."that one," for instance. I didn't take it as a racial thing - I took it as a condescending, aggressive remark I'd expect toward someone for whom you have no respect whatsoever. Not good politics.

But even more, I read about McCain's reputation for having a nasty temper and wonder just what his experiences as a prisoner of war have done to his psyche. I realize there's a lot of garbage out there that passes for information and I don't want to overreact, but there's one story after another about McCain's loss of control - either physically or verbally. And then there's his latest gaffe..."my friends" and "my fellow Americans" gave way to "my fellow prisoners." If you haven't heard about it, you can read it here....


John McCain has been through hell. There's no disputing that. And that kind of trauma leaves a mark. Has anyone really looked into that? Is this man wounded emotionally as well as physically?

Then there's the increasingly strident and ugly rhetoric at the campaign rallies. Sarah Palin whips the crowd up to an angry frenzy and some people shout to actually physically harm the Democratic candidate. Does Palin or McCain say, "Whoa, now...wait a minute. This is about philosophy and politics and democracy - not about eliminating your opposition!"? No. Not that I've seen, anyway.

And if they don't, they are encouraging something that has no place in the America they say they believe in. We don't kill. We don't torture. We don't do violence to those who disagree with us. At least that's what we say.

John McCain and Sarah Palin have a moral obligation to keep this campaign under control. If they incite violence, I hope they never sleep well again. And I hope they understand that they, more than anything they believe Barack Obama could do, will have helped destroy America.

LATER NOTE: Since I wrote this, John McCain did try to defuse the growing hysteria among some of his supporters. He assured people at a rally that they didn't have to fear a Barack Obama presidency. He told them Obama is a decent, Christian man who loves his family and his country. And McCain's supporters booed him. The fear some of the Republican faithful have of the Democratic candidate is beyond reason - and the mob mentality is growing so strong that they will even turn on their own man if he tells them it has no basis in reality.
Tonight, I'm betting John McCain is wondering what kind of monster his campaign has unleashed. And I'll be truthful. I'm afraid.