Monday, November 30, 2009

A Turning Point for A New President

President Obama will be at West Point tomorrow night. He's expected to announced the deployment of an additional thirty thousand soldiers to Afghanistan.

I'll be there. It's history and sad as it is, I want to witness it.

I subscribe to a very interesting report called Stratfor. It's a subscription-supported intelligence gathering report. It offers in depth analysis of global issues, particularly the developments in politics and the military. It's fascinating reading.

There are already 68 thousand Americans in Afghanistan, fighting alongside 45 thousand soldiers from NATO and other countries. It's the biggest foreign presence since the Russians got whupped there.

Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires...and it's very likely we'll fare no better there than the Russians, the British and even Genghis Khan.

We've enraged the Taliban by our complicity in mass murders. We missed bin Laden when we nearly had him; we decided we wanted Iraq's oil.

Stratfor's analysis is that we cannot get enough soldiers (I refuse to call them 'troops' - it's a way of depersonalizing them. They are people.) across the massive region to do any good, nor can we get them in and out quickly enough to satisfy an American public weary of war. It concludes that what will matter is where the president decides to deploy our soldiers.

I think Afghanistan may prove to be the issue that sinks this president. He came into office with a huge tide of goodwill. Despite an economy more challenging than any in most of our memories, many of his supporters haven't given up on him. His efforts to get health care reform finally done deserves credit. But if he sinks our already-exhausted military into yet another unwinnable war, the Democrats can kiss the White House goodbye.

He is the president. He has a choice. I'll be there to see what it is. And I'm truly hoping he'll surprise me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

NOW I really have something to be grateful for. My daughter told me about this site and it was a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day. is a response to, a site on which people wrote down the most discouraging, disheartening events in their lives. It's a great idea, but infinitely depressing.

Gives Me Hope is the flip side of that coin - people writing down little notes describing an experience that makes them think that life may just be worthwhile.

It also has a YouTube page. Nice antidote when you feel like you're sinking.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Listen to Your Grandparents

Thanksgiving's a great time to get together with relatives. Somehow it's not nearly so emotionally loaded as that Christmas/Hanukkah/Epiphany/Kwanzaa/New Year season. Families just sit down to a meal. No gifts, no nostalgia for Thanksgivings past, no tears, no pressure. And if you're lucky, everybody talks. It can be really interesting.

This year was a good year. The talk turned to politics, then the economy. And we had the good fortune to have three people at the table who've passed their eightieth birthdays and appear likely to be around for another decade. They had some very interesting observations about the world we live in.

"We have never owed anyone anything," one couple told us. "We bought a house when we could pay cash. Now we own several and rent them out. We don't carry balances on our credit cards. We drive a ten year old car. We don't eat out much."

Don't pity them. They don't live a deprived life. They have two vacation homes (they rent them out in the prime season so they pay for themselves), they travel, they collect art. But they respect the money they've made in their professions and spend it only on things that really matter to them.

"We don't spend what we don't have."

They say that's where they see today's society going wrong.

"What is Black Friday all about? What are they buying?" they asked in genuine bemusement.

Good question. Electronics, apparently. The latest gotta-have-it goody that will be obsolete in three months and broken in six months to a year.

I'm torn. I like my modern conveniences. I like my computer (except when a virus tries to sneak on board, as it did this morning. That just infuriates me. Why can't PC's be reliably virus-free?), I like my washer and dryer, I like central heat. But I find myself longing for an off grid lifestyle that's simpler, that lets me unplug - no, that FORCES me to unplug. I'm a lazy slug. I'll watch TV when I could read. I'll read when I could write. And my back tells me my days of hauling wood and shoveling snow are over - doubt I'd last long if I had to heat with wood now.

But I don't want a cell phone - I have a cheapo pay as you go because my job requires it. I don't use it for much else. I have one television. I'd like to throw it out the window but I still watch it. I don't need a PalmPre, an iPhone, a hURL, a wEDGIE, a sLice or any other cutesie name they may come up with for yet another piece of technology that plugs me into the grid.

For Christmas, I want some good company and good conversation. I want to be with people who like to laugh. I don't want to go to the mall and I don't anyone going there for me. I'd rather we all saved our money for what really matters to each of us.

For me, the best gift would be a little more peace - not only in the world, but in my own little corner of it. We all deserve it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Gratitude Day

This one's a challenge this year, but let me give it a shot:

I'm thankful for my guy - he's been a gift.

I'm thankful for my kids - they've become interesting and worthwhile human beings.

I'm thankful there are a growing number of people who won't eat meat today. I'm glad that I'm one of them

I'm grateful for my health, though I take it for granted.

I'm grateful for the people I've known, the friends I have and the ones I've lost touch with. I've had a rich life.

I'm grateful for opportunities - both ones I've pursued and ones that have dropped into my lap.

I'm thankful for the natural beauty I've been lucky enough to grow up in. I've seen a truly dark sky, heard nothing but birds and smelled nothing but pine needles. I've been underwater in a freshwater pond and stood under a waterfall. That, I know, is a gift.

Hope you all have something to be grateful for, too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just 'Cause You Can't Let Lies Go Unnoticed...

Dana Perino on terrorist attacks

Changing the World

Time to focus on the positive - focusing on the negative is just making me miserable.

So here's a book that could spark a discussion about creating a sustainable future.

I interviewed author Peter Brown today. The idea is based on the Quaker concept of Right Relationship. That means that no one interest prospers at the expense of others or the expense of the general good. The question this book poses is simple: what if we built an economy based on the realization that our environment is fragile and its resources are limited instead of an economy based on using it up?

The authors propose a solution that will hit some as radical; the creation of a global federation with all existing countries becoming member states. The creation of a global court that can enforce agreements made by that federation. Rule by consensus, not majority. An economy based on awareness of environmental impacts, meaning more local economies, more local thinking.

Brown says any concerns about loss of sovereignty are misguided - that's already been lost. He points to the fact that the United States is in debt to China up to its eyeballs.

What's required, he says, is a mass public rejection of the current economic values, an acknowledgement that they don't work and a demand for reform. He says there is precedent for such a sea change - he points to anti-smoking campaigns, anti-drunk driving campaigns, civil rights and even anti-slavery movements of the past.

There are resources for learning more, for deciding what could work and what couldn't. This book is a good starting point for discussion, particularly the Quaker emphasis on consensus. It can work. It has. He argues that now it must.

Moral economy

International Day of Climate Action

Gund Institute for Ecological Economics

Local Money

Sunday, November 22, 2009

You Know You're Old Part Two: the American Music Awards

I watched the whole thing. I was wiped out after planning a really nice little surprise birthday thing for my guy, I was sprawled on the couch and hey, I like music.

I didn't like this. None of it. It was just godawful. Music was the very last thing anyone cared about. Which is pretty damned ironic for an award about music. Unless you get real and call it the American Idol Awards

Here's what the LA Times had to say - I'd like to reply.

2009 American Music Awards: Grading the performances
November 22, 2009 | 5:18 pm

Grading the performances at the 2009 American Music Awards, typos and all.

Janet Jackson. So, supposedly the American Music Awards were going to open with a performance from Janet, and that's technically what happened. Except Janet's performance was largely a commercial for her "Number Ones," in which the singer, in a tan outfit that looked like it was ripped straight from the racks at REI, performed a medley of her hits. Imagine going to and clicking on a bunch of song samples from her two-disc set. That's largely what this performance was -- it's "Miss You Much"! and now it's "What Have You Done for Me Lately"! -- and if you were a Janet fan, you surely enjoyed this swift little medley. It was a safe and solid opening, and it gets a slight bonus for focusing entirely on Janet and not becoming another Michael tribute, so B-.

First, so what with the clothes? I liked 'em, you didn't. Spare me. Yes, it was definitely Janet reminding the audience that she'd had a few hits. Did you expect something new? It is about Michael, still, and Janet knew that by the placement and emphasis on Miss You Much. It was okay as a dance routine, which is what this is all about. Singing is totally secondary. I really like Janet, always have. But she and another dancing diva need to come up with a second act because Madonna's shown that there's something creepy about trying to be Britney after 40. C

Daughtry. Boom! Nothing ignites the excitement of a three-hour award show like a mid-tempo rock ballad from heartland rockers Daughtry. "No, there's no life after you," leader Chris Daughtry sings through gritted teeth, trying to muster some importance out of these tepid lyrics and lightly strummed electric guitars. This type of song is typically saved for the moments during an arena show when a band says, "This one is for the ladies," and everyone goes and buys a hot dog. D

And we don't want those moments at an awards show. Got it. Of course he's bland. He's an American Idol. D

Shakira. Rather than perform "She Wolf," Shakira opts for her more recent single "Give It Up to Me," and turns in a performance worthy of Broadway's "STOMP." A little militant, and a little bit "Single Ladies," Shakira's minimalistic outfit matched the sparseness of the song. Her dancing didn't match the oddness of "She Wolf," but it was aggressive, and put the viewer on the defensive. B

"Her dancing". There you have it, folks. This is about costumes and dancing. Welcome to the Coliseum and may the most shocking win. Shakira can sing. You wouldn't know it from her performance. And for me, it ends there. D

Keith Urban. In case Shakira was too risque for you, don't worry -- the AMAs went right back to PG with Urban's good-time country rocker, "Kiss a Girl." The AMAs have gone back and forth between sexy and middle-of-the-road thus far, and Urban, sporting a slightly shiny Western shirt, kept things simple and to the point. "Say goodbye to all the rules," he sings in the song, but this country-crossover rocker never strays from them. B-

Keith Urban can play guitar. He instead rolled out this bland piece of white bread that I've heard him play on a gazillion other shows. And where were the dancers? What's pitiful is you just know if Nicole had hopped onstage and shimmied, he'd have been called a show-stopper. C-

Kelly Clarkson. Yes, she had an album this year -- don't forget! -- and she sold it well tonight with a solid take on "Already Gone." Looking glamorous and sounding terrific, Clarkson was a classic throwback, a reminder of a time when "American Idol" didn't make all artists think they had to over-sing. B+

Kelly looked nice and sounded okay. She didn't sound great. I'm sorry - no one did. No one. Singing just wasn't part of what mattered. C

Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Dressed all spiffy in their finest formal wear, Keys and Jay-Z performed their pandering "Empire State of Mind." This was fine the first time we heard it on an award show -- at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it was fine at the World Series, but enough. It's worn out its welcome. Yes, we know New York is cool. Bars are open late and the public transportation is swell and all, but performing this love letter to New York in Los Angeles? We're tired of it. No more songs about cities. D Side-note: The introduction by Alex Rodriguez gets an F. And was he chewing gum? He's unprofessional off the field too.

You're just mad 'cause Jay-Z has managed to sell this piece of garbage by sheer force of will. It is annoying and unmusical - agreed. A-Rod? He sleeps with gum in his mouth. If you want rock star, get rock stars to present the awards. Oh. Wait. That's right. The rock stars avoided this show like the swine flu. F

The Black Eyed Peas. The Los Angeles popsters received a showcase performance, getting to offer live takes of "Meet Me Halfway" and "Boom Boom Pow," two of the most ubiquitous songs of the year. Viewers were reminded of this fact repeatedly, with their sales constantly hyped, and the Black Eyed Peas declaring themselves "the new kings" at the end of their performance. On record, "Meet Me Halfway" is all electronic futurism. Live, it was a bit messier, but there was plenty of eye candy in this extended performance. Crazy wigs and stereo outfits and some crowd-pleasing samples of C+C Music Factory and Nirvana. It was all pop-culture nonsense, and that's what the Black Eyed Peas excel at. B+

More hype, more costumes, Fergie looking swell and actually singing. That was nice. I thought they were less horrible than just about everyone else but really...they were horrible, too. C+

Rihanna. Ne-Yo told us that the "R" in her "Rated R" stands for either "remarkable" or "really, really sexy." Not quite sure if it completely hit both of those notes, but it was definitely over too soon. Performing in a sort of sci-fi junkyard, Rihanna came onstage in what could have been a torture device. Like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna is definitely tapping into the cyborg pop mentality that's all the rage at the moment (nice spikes on the shoulders). She gave us snippets of two songs from "Rated R" -- "Wait Your Turn" and "Hard" -- but it would have been better to just stick with one. To her credit, she sounded sharp, metallic and owned the songs. The night's best performance thus far. A-

Are you kidding me??? The girl cannot sing. Cannot sing. Pretty, nice outfit, showy, you bet. Sing? Just awful! Stop focusing on the space between her outfit's straps and listen! D

Carrie Underwood. Was it really just a week ago that this song was performed on the Country Music Assn. Awards? There were fewer nods to Nashville tonight, or maybe it was just too hard to focus on the slide guitar when Underwood was sporting some kind of half-dress, half-lingerie outfit, and the band was nowhere to be seen. This wasn't about the song; it was about her strutting around onstage. C

No kidding. That's what the whole show was about. This was completely American Idol and Carrie, the cutest singing Barbie doll ever, tried gamely. It was gruesome. But at least the singing mattered. C-

Lady Gaga. Coming onstage like a creature from "Pan's Labyrinth," Lady Gaga was all twitchy masked dance moves for this two-song medley. That was a good thing, as her "Bad Romance" is a bit of a mess, ultimately falling back on the retro-synth choruses that Gaga can't resist. There was broken glass and a flaming piano (no flaming bras, sadly), and Gaga showed off her pipes on "Speechless" as she got violent with some water bottles. Gaga makes for entertaining television, no doubt, but at some point she's going to need more than just crazy masks, pryo and fake blood. C+

She looks so depressed all the time. Probably because Gaga tries so hard, pushes for shock value and never wins a damned award. Again, she can sing. But it doesn't matter. It's about the spectacle. Hope you enjoyed it, my fellow Romans. D-

Mary J. Blige. Her "I Am" isn't a knock-out on par with "I Can See in Color," but it's the type of ballad Blige can perfectly deliver in her sleep. On a night were futuristic flash and bare skin were all the rage, Blige kept it lovingly old school. B

Old school performance. Old voice. I'm not picking particularly on today's artists - there just comes a time when you have to realize your voice is shot and it's time to stop. I felt the same way about Sinatra. If you go old school, you're supposed to be able to sing and sing a good song. Mary J. was a snooze without much of a voice. C

Jennifer Lopez. Given an elaborate stage with a fake boxing ring, Lopez was hyped as "the main event." She wasn't. Her "comeback" single, "Louboutins," is a silly little trifle, and that may even be too complimentary. She sounded Auto-Tuned for the entire performance, and the title is a ridiculous word to repeat multiple times in a pop song. But it'll sell some shoes this holiday season, so maybe some retailers are stoked. D

JLo and Janet should talk. The song was awful, she seemed forced and whoever convinced her to climb the backs of dancers and jump probably got fired after she landed on her keister. Aging gracefully and dancing diva clearly are not compatible. C-

Whitney Houston. She received a standing ovation, and it was deserved. With "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," Houston hollered and showed a bit of a rasp. If her instrument isn't what it once was, it can still silence a room. Compared to Blige a few songs ago, Houston was perhaps a bit over the top, but she belted until she was nearly out of breath. It was a powerful moment. But the angelic background lighting? Could have done without that. A-

Ah, Whitney. How long since she's had a hit? Another voice trashed and she did it all by herself. It was a strange, jerky performance done that had me filling in the blanks during that excessively long adultation-fest near the end of the song. "Aren't you lucky I'm still around? It sure would have been a shame if I'd died, huh? I still sound gooood, baby. You know you love me." Really. C-

Alicia Keys. Getting a chance to redeem herself for her earlier performance, Keys drops her new single, "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," in her second performance of the evening, touching on a bit of '70s R&B vibe. Her gold-draped jacket will dominate the gossip sites Monday, and the single's good too. Keys doesn't belt at the top of her lungs here, and though I prefer her when she's at the piano (she sat down and played in the song's final moments), she's softly restrained for much of the song. The background dancers, copping some vintage "West Side Story" Broadway moves, were cute to boot. B+

Yeah, she sat down at the piano toward the end and sang like an amateur. A dopey performance, a so-so song and a highly overrated artist. KB liked the dancer guy. Thought he was terrific. I thought the concept was pretty stupid: "you dance around Alicia and she'll push you away." D

Eminem and 50 Cent. The censors worked overtime in this collaboration for "Crack a Bottle," as there was more silence than music. That about sums up the performance as well, as this was all offensive swagger. But it didn't shock -- it was simply kind of annoying. D

And I keep trying to hate Em and fail. He is the most rhythmically interesting rapper out there, in my opinion, and despite writing Songs for Psychos, his lyrics are imaginative and intelligent. He could leave Fifty Cent home...he contributes nothing. That said, you can't perform when most of what you do has to be bleeped. Why even try? C-

Timbaland, SoShy and Nelly Furtado. This song needed a little more Nelly Furtado and a little less Timbaland, but the producer-rapper certainly keeps good company. This slinky dance-floor cut excels when newbie SoShy and Furtado trade vocals, and hits a bit of a wall when Timbaland controls the microphone. B

Timbaland and the Talents. Another dopey song, another big dance routine. Las Vegas has taken over the music business and it's just more of the same. C

Green Day. Here to perform recent single "21 Guns." It's the least exciting of the singles from "21st Century Breakdown," but it does show off the band's more theatrical, serious side. With all its stops and starts, and on-the-sleeve crooning from Billie Joe Armstrong, it certainly feels important, but it never quite takes off. B-

But it was an attempt to do a musical performance. Props for that. B-

Adam Lambert. You wouldn't have seen this on "American Idol," a show that has broadcast its share of monstrosities. Borrowing some of Rihanna's shoulder spikes and torture devices, Lambert dragged women around onstage and got frisky with dudes, all in what seemed like an overly calculated way to show himself off as some sort of glam-gone-dangerous artist -- and to instantly distance Lambert from the family-friendly "Idol" fare. It all would have been forgivable if the song actually had a hook. Lambert has the voice, and a charisma that stands out in today's pop music landscape, but this was provocation by the numbers. D

-Todd Martens

We are in total agreement, except that's what the whole damned SHOW was. American Idol has taken over American music and this stupid, unmusical, shock-entertainment Las Vegas on drag shlock is what's called a performance. Bad song, dumb performance by melody, no soul and just a few vocal runs to prove he can do them. I do not care about his sexual proclivities and I'm not stunned by a stupid S&M dance number - I'm just disappointed by it. I'll take his Idol performance of "Mad World" over this any day of the week...I'll even take "Ring of Fire" that the judges hated.

So there you go - not a bright spot in the entire dreary evening. It was like watching a bad car accident - and left me feeling just that depressed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You Know You're Old When....

You know you're old when...

*People talking on their cellphones in a book store make you feel homicidal.

*People outside the store who crank up the volume on their cellphone so their friends (and everyone within a fifty foot radius) can hear what's being said make your brain smoke.

*You find yourself wondering why nobody has any manners.

*You hear a girl say to her boyfriend, "...and I was, like, AWESOME! And she was, like, TOTALLY!" and you think that perhaps our species has outlasted its usefulness.

*You almost weep with gratitude when a little girl says, "Excuse me", when she bumps into you.

*You watch people eating burgers and fries at the president's favorite burger chain and you are reminded of nothing so much as cows chewing cud in a field, which makes you depressed on many levels.

*Between the grease on the bag of fries, the sheer weight of the calorie count of the meal and the knowledge that the beef came from factory farms which are not only inhumane but incredibly filthy and disease ridden, you suddenly see the scene as everyone, including yourself, chewing poison and dropping dead. And seeing the joyless expressions on the faces around you, it doesn't seem like such a tragedy.

You know you're old when...

*You can remember when going shopping was a big event that happened twice a year: right before school began and right before Christmas. And it was fun.

*You can remember driving an hour to go shopping at the first indoor mall in your area.

*You remember when your pharmacist owned his own business.

*You remember doctors making house calls.

*You are surprised when a box of cookies costs five dollars.

*You are disappointed that the cars of the future you dreamed of actually all ended up looking like rounded-off boxes.

You know you're old when...

*You're saddened by the concept of 'hookups'.

*You realize you don't know most current musical artists and you used to know every single one and all the words to their songs. Worse yet, when you hear most popular music, you don't want to know it.

*The parallels between the Roman Empire and modern society strike you as just a little ominous.

*You find yourself mistrusting the motives of anyone with power.

*You think maybe you're in the wrong country, then realize you're probably just in the wrong century.

Man. My guy is right. I shouldn't be allowed beyond the mailbox anymore.

Look at What I Did!

There are many reasons why I love my guy. One of them is that he doesn't take himself too seriously. This morning he'd barely stumbled out of bed but he couldn't wait for me to hear something he'd written in the wee hours of the morning.

Then he started laughing.

"It's a lot like when you're potty training a kid, isn't it? 'Look at what I made!' It's the basis of all of this, isn't it?"

And he's got a point. I think about all the creative people I know who are just dying to have you read their latest poem, hear their latest song, read their new novel. They're the kids who are just so damned proud of what they created all by themselves.

Then there are the ones like me - the ones who make stuff but aren't sure they really want anyone to know about it. We do things like this - blog in obscurity. God forbid we should stand on a stage and read what we've done. We could do it, but I don't think we'd be looking for that invitation.

Oh my, Sigmund, what would you make of this?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Daydreamers, Please Wake Up

My daughter introduced me to a terrific singer who also struck me as exactly the kind of artist I like; she believes music can change the world. She actually says something in her lyrics.

There's plenty of theatricality. She's got her gimmick. But she's got talent.

For those of you of a certain age, she's a cross between Shirley Bassey, Grace Jones and David Bowie. You know what I mean. Listen to "Sincerely Jane" by Janelle Monae:

Janelle Monae MySpace

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Most Entertaining Literary Biography Ever, Maybe

This book completely puzzled me for about three pages. Why was a book about DH Lawrence full of the author's rambling neuroses about making a decision? Do I care where he's going to live? Could I possibly spend an entire book with a man so completely self-involved and, frankly, strange?

I do and I can.

Dyer's being credited with a new form of literary biography. It takes a while to get into it, to see what he's up to. But now having gotten halfway through (I only get to read for fun late at night) I can say that I am being thoroughly entertained and probably understand DH Lawrence better than I ever could have with a traditional biography.

Dyer's indecisiveness, his inability to buckle down and get on with a project he says he wants to do, his clear unsuitability for life in what we think of as the real world, is exactly the voice needed to help the reader understand Lawrence, who was apparently a kindred spirit.

He's infuriating, he's hilarious, he's an immature brat and he's not ashamed to show himself as he is.

Well written, interesting, candy for people who long to write, long to travel, long to throw off their nine to five shackles and live dangerously, this is a great read. And it's just plain good.

I'm reading "But Beautiful" next.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Want to Figure It Out? Here's a Good Place to Begin.

Thanks to my show, I get a lot of advance copies of books for review. This one has me glued to my seat.

Hoodwinked: It's by a former self-described "Economic Hit Man" who had an epiphany and now talks about how he and others helped create the current financial meltdown.

It's a fascinating education in basic economics, contrasting Keynesian economics, which were the principles of American business pre-Reagan, versus the profit-driven, deregulation-happy economics of Milton Friedman which Reagan and his successors have espoused.

Bottom line, he describes a global economy ruled by major corporations. It's an entirely different take on what's happened in the Middle East than what you'll hear from the media or our politicians. And it rings true.

I'm still reading, looking forward to his ideas for reform but I'm betting it's got something to do with John Maynard Keynes.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

If You Thought This Year Was Bad In NY - Wait for 2011.

The 2010 budgets aren't official yet in most counties across New York, but it is not too soon to talk about 2011. In fact, the county leaders I'm talking to say it's essential that we start talking about it now.

Counties in New York have mostly managed to avoid large tax increases by cutting staff, cutting corners where they can, raiding fund balances (those rainy day accounts they all try to maintain) and raising taxes as little as possible.

All the padding will be gone in 2011. The federal stimulus dollars will be gone. Fund balances will be smaller. Costs probably won't go down and revenues are unlikely to increase. In fact, people and businesses are leaving New York, not arriving. That means even if expenses stayed exactly the same, a smaller pool of taxpayers will be paying them.

Officials in several counties say Albany has to wake up and wake up now. 2011 will be, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group, "disastrous".

Despite lip service to cost cutting and consolidation, state government spending hasn't been really cut and has, in fact, increased. The state continues to pass on its costs to local and county governments - those are the same people who pay the state taxes, any savings on the state level are just smoke and mirrors.

The heartening thing is that if taxpayers start talking now, they have the opportunity to make huge changes. Every state office is up for grabs in 2010. Remind your representatives of that fact and you're likely to get their attention; particularly if you organize a series of phone calls, emails or letters.

New York government has been a mess for years and New Yorkers put up with it. If New Yorkers are so spunky, so outspoken, why aren't they screaming yet? Better yet, why aren't they supporting viable alternatives to the 'business as usual' Democrats and Republicans?

Run for office and bring your pencil - there are a lot of budget items to be reconsidered.

We Are The Working Poor

A New York woman who worked three jobs to pay for her kids' education was found dead on the job - where she'd been sleeping.

48 year old Anna May Harting of Wappingers Falls had been warned before about sleeping in the closet at her janitorial office at SUNY Purchase. But a friend said he'd helped her bring a mattress to the office because she said the long commute and the cost of gas made it worth the risk. Harting had been supervising the custodial staff at the Performing Arts Center for 13 years, and a housemate said she was working extra jobs to pay for her daughter's college and to support her son. Her children lived about an hour away.

Friends said she'd sounded sick when they'd last spoken with her. Her daughter said her mother had been recovering from bronchitis, but was getting better.

The Westchester County Medical Examiners office said the death was not suspicious.

Bringing a mattress to your job so you can sleep in the closet. What else are people doing to try to make ends meet?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

EPA Doesn't Want You To See This

Follow this link to a great blog showing a video by two EPA lawyers discussing flaws of Climate Change legislation...a video they've been ordered to remove after EPA's initial approval.

Cat Diplomacy

This is not a photo of our cats. I wish it was. We live in a carefully patrolled territory claimed by two warring factions. We're working on detente.

Here's what happened. I have a fat gray cat that the shelter assured me was a Lynx Point Siamese. Somewhere beneath his blubber I guess it's possible. I'd say his ancestry has a healthy dose of Tabby, but he is a lovely silvery color with wide set ice blue eyes. His previous owner declawed his front paws. So he's fat, neutered, he's good natured, he's arthritic and he has no front claws.

On the other side of the gate, joining us in this new place more than two years ago, are KB's two best friends. One is an equally tubby Ayrshire colored cat with scimitars on his paws and a distinctly doggish personality. He's willing to make nice if you just don't get between him and his food bowl. His companion is a tiny slip of a black cat with the most charming personality on the planet and issues with strangers of the feline persuasion. Both Dog Boy and the Queen are neutered as well. At least we're not dealing with that nonsense.

Here's how it was described to me: "They get along most of the time. But if the Queen sees another cat go by the window outside, she attacks her brother. He used to just look confused while she beat him up, but now he fights back. And it sounds like they're trying to kill each other. So I don't know what will happen when we try to put them all together."

We tried. We read the books, we kept them separated and let them smell each other and check out the enemy through a gate. We waited. But it all went to hell when our little Royal jumped onto a chair and found my fat gray friend sleeping there. He screamed (in total terror, no doubt), she screamed (in complete shock, more than likely) and then proceeded to kick his ass. It was horrific and I completely freaked out, trying to break it up by beating on them with a pillow. (Yes, I know. Not a good move. But adrenalin kicked in as did self-preservation.) The Queen relented, I scooped up my guy and the doors shut. We both shook for awhile.

Months passed. We put up gates between them and let them reintroduce themselves. On rare occasions, somebody got past the gate and there were no problems in the few minutes it took us to discover the breakout. We began to hope.

We tried letting my guy, known lovingly as the Monsignor, waddle into the room to watch TV and sit in my lap. But the Queen sidled up below him and he screamed like a girl. Really. He did.

Back to the other side of the gate.

So we're trying again. Last night, Her Highness was nowhere to be found and the Monsignor was banging on the gate. The big white Dog/Cat was sleeping on a hassock. Okay, then...another try. The Monsignor waddled past Dog Boy. Dog Boy quirked an eyebrow but said nothing. Neither did the Monsignor. Then Dog Boy hopped down and walked by him. BY him. The Monsignor revved up for one of his intimidating growls (if only he really was as tough as he sounds!) but I leaned over and petted them both. Dog Boy kept strolling and the Monsignor shut up, watching him go by with a very nervous look on his rather wide and somewhat vacant but good natured face. He quickly waddled back to the gate, begging for the security of his isolation. Dog Boy didn't even watch him go.

Diplomacy. It's just exhausting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

School Lockdown

Photo courtesy Poughkeepsie Journal

Little Pine Plains, New York was the lead story on most New York newscasts today; a father townpeople described as 'troubled' brought a gun into the local middle school, assembled it in a boy's bathroom and burst into the principal's office. He held the principal there for two hours as police and SWAT teams surrounded the building.

A twelve year old kid was in the guidance office, phoning his mom to bring in his homework.

He told reporters he hid under a desk for two hours, then spotted police outside the window and made a sign telling them the gunman was there and how many people were in the office. They wrote a sign in response, telling him to jump out the window. He did.

There was plenty of speculation about what led to the incident, but what struck me was that kid.

"How did you know what to do?" I asked him.

"Boy Scouts," he said. "And I have a brother in the Army so I know some things."

I wouldn't have been surprised had he said "TV" or even "video games."

Maybe that could be the one upside to the torrent of crime shows we call entertainment. This boy kept his head, even though he acknowledged he was scared to death. He figured out how to get help and he even thought to empty the change out his pockets as he snuck to that window so no one would hear him.

What was his mom's reaction, besides the obvious relief and a bit of pride?

"I wish he did that well with his schoolwork."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Little Perspective

After seeing "Capitalism: A Love Story" I needed a little space, a little breathing room. I spent the day on top of Overlook Mountain in the Catskills.
I thought I'd share it with you.

Where is Our Woody Guthrie?

I went to see Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" last night. Excellent film. Go. If you disagree with him, it's most important that you go. Go to scoff, but go. Listen.

I took it hard; the facts are so cold when presented on a large screen, when you see the faces of the people who are being crushed by the Capitalism machine:

"Dead peasant" insurance policies that enrich an employer for a worker's untimely death. Citibank crowing to its top investors that America is now a plutonomy, with the only possible threat to a perfect corporate/government synergy being the one man one vote policy. A laundry list of Goldman executives who have been or are now the top financial people in the government.

Moore did a terrific job of contrasting life before Ronald Reagan and life after him. He describes him as the perfect pitch man, and what he sold us was trickle down economics; the idea that if you let the rich get richer, the money will come down to the rest of us. And the incredible part is that many bought that argument so solidly that despite the fact that they're sinking, that they can't pay their bills, that their salaries have been flat and families must work at least two jobs to survive, despite the fact that car loans are now routinely for five years because we can't possibly pay off a car in three, despite the fact that it is nearly impossible to get a young person through college without massive loan debt, despite the fact that we work longer and harder, make comparatively less yet have little or no job security, despite the fact that we lose our homes, go bankrupt because of health costs, and get poorer quality care from lawsuit-fearful doctors, despite all of this, they still BELIEVE the Reagan line. They believe it with all their hearts.

They're convinced that government is an evil which much be contained, rather than believing that government can be a tool for ensuring the public good. Is government evil right now? Yes, for the most part. It's corrupt, it's become what the Reaganites wanted - an arm of corporate America. It is populated by people who are indebted to the very interests they should be regulating, rather than the voters who put them in office. That's the system we've allowed to exist. And that's what has to change.

There are a few lights shining in the dark. Marcy Kaptur, for example, has my vote if I could vote for her. I like Dennis Kucinich. Don't dismiss him as a strange little man - that's what the System does to threats - it either attacks them or mocks them. He envisions a government that I could support. Bernie Sanders is a democratic Socialist? He's immediately got my vote if only for raw, buck the system honesty. He believes that government should be used to ensure the public good. Maurice Hinchey shares my philosophy, and would be an ally if Congress took a step toward reform.

The list of legislators who should be tossed out on their ears is too long to list and it is totally bipartisan. If you participate in the game as it's currently played, you should be fired. Period.

And you, you reading this, if you're in the US, you should be getting involved. You should consider running for office. Yes, it's a total drag and not what you want to do with your life, but that's exactly the kind of people who should be in office; citizen legislators who view the job as jury duty; I'll do it for a term because I should, but then I want out so I can have my life back. It isn't supposed to be a career.

But how do we get people riled up enough to act? Michael Moore's doing his part. He's pretty much doing it in a vaccuum. The Depression had Woody Guthrie to spread the message of discontent. The sixties had Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, even Woody's son. Who is the Troubador for the New People's Movement? Who can speak to both Red and Blue and make them see that their interests are the same: they want an America where they can live, work, raise their families and pursue opportunities to better themselves.

Our businesses make record profits while the workers go bankrupt. Giant corporations push through a bailout that they use to give bonuses to the people who created the banking crisis, for conferences in exotic locations, to increase their profits while attempting to crush the local competition. Small businesses are driven out by giant box stores and farmers are squashed by giant agribusiness.

It's simple logic: it's gotten too big to be sustainable. We're less healthy, less happy, less hopeful and more angry. To paraphrase the Great Communicator: Are You Better Off Than You Were Before We Made Capitalism America's God?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Matsui As A Reflection of Our Priorities

I am not a rabid baseball fan, though I'm exposed to them on a regular basis. My guy is a Braves fan. (Condolence cards are indeed appropriate.) My son is a lifelong Yankees fan. My dad liked the Mets as a sad substitute for the Brooklyn Dodgers and his beloved Ebbets Field. I used to own an autographed picture of Jerry Koosman.

For this particular World Series, this family was rooting for the Yankees. It was a no-brainer for son, of course. And he was an emotional mess throughout the series.

"I'm taking every single pitch personally," he told me. "I was a total wreck in game 5."

It reminded me of how I used to feel during his Little League career, when he'd deliberately get the bases loaded when he was on the mound because it was so much fun to shut the other team down as he suddenly started throwing rockets. Why I didn't have ulcers I don't know.

For my guy, the Yankees were the better alternative to a Philly team that he dislikes intensely. He normally feels the same way about the Yankees, but this year he saw a team that, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be having fun. He liked that. He was a pitcher, too. I'm surrounded.

And we have a houseguest, my stepson-equivalent, who was forced the watch the game with us as a wave of sadness emanated from his Red Sox slippers and tee shirts. I think his Red Sox baseball cap spontaneously combusted after game six.

But here's the thing: as Hideki Matsui single handedly carried the Yankees to a World Series victory in game six, the announcers were talking about the fact that the team will probably let him go. In fact, perhaps it's already happened.

"It's either Damon or Matsui," Joe Buck said. "The team needs younger players and it looks like they'll be letting Matsui go."

I became a Hideki Matsui fan at that moment. I've read a little about him now, just enough to like him even better. He's got class. Not only did he play his heart out while having the sword of Damocles hanging over his neck, but he's given a small fortune to charity. He lives his life outside of the limelight - nobody's even sure who it is he married in 2008.

He broke his wrist in 2006 game against the Red Sox. He missed a catch. He grabbed the ball and threw it back - with a broken wrist. A broken bone didn't stop him from doing his job, particularly as he'd made a mistake. Even his nickname, Godzilla, tells you something about him. According to Wikipedia (I'll have to guess they're right), the nickname was first given to Matsui in Japan because of a skin condition he had. It was derisive.

Matsui has become such a monster at the plate, such a force, that the nickname stuck as a description of his ability, as a compliment. He just kept his head down and kept playing. Classy.

So here's a guy who's the MVP of game six facing the likelihood that the team will be letting him go. It's a business decision - too many aging players, no room for a DH heading into the downside of his thirties.

I'm not arguing with whatever the Yankees have to do. Their job is to maximize the odds of another series win. They pay Matsui, he does the job. Yet it strikes me as sad. This is what sports is. This is what the world is. Excel, do everything you're paid for and more, and see yourself let go because you don't fit an organization's future plans.

I'm just going to be a staunch Matsui fan. I'll root for him wherever he goes. The guy's an example of doing things right.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Bugs Me Is the Meanness

Politics = Partisan. Of course. I'm right, you're wrong. You're totally misguided. You just don't get it.

I get an up-close look at politics every election night. I visit party headquarters for both parties and hear each side rooting for their team. There's certainly a great deal of glee in victory. But what I hate is the nastiness. And it's so unnecessary.

I'm not going to name parties, because the particularly vindictive party here may be the home of rationality somewhere else. No party has a monopoly on mean.

But while I saw interest, even passion at one headquarters last night, I heard zealots on a mission at the other headquarters.

"How'd X do?" I heard.

"X lost."

"Excellent. Y is next."

"W got his ass kicked tonight. He never saw it coming."

"They lost because they haven't figured out what they want to be when they grow up."

"They're crooked - the entire lot of them."

Broad, sweeping statements were made about one candidate after another, people many of these partisans had known since childhood. But because they are now on opposite sides of the political fence, they are mortal enemies, firmly on the side of good or evil with no room for discussion or debate.

I have been told I'm immature by Conservatives who read this blog. "Grow up," they write. I find that a simplistic, dismissive response to a clear-eyed view of a dysfunctional system.

Debate societies used to train students to argue a point of view dispassionately, rationally and with reason. The point of debate was to pile up unassailable arguments that toppled opposing viewpoints by their sheer weight. I'm good with that.

I'm equally okay with open-minded discussions of differences, searched for points of agreement from which some working compromises can be found for fundamental disagreements. Sometimes there is just no winning a debate - sometimes the more important task is to find a way to move forward in a bi-partisan way.

And sometimes, the only way to make progress is to give up the skirmishes that can't be won. The Obama Administration, for instance, has given up trying to convince disbelievers that there is such a thing as climate change. It's become too emotionally loaded. So instead it's concentrating its energy on legislation aimed at encourage renewable, sustainable energy. No mention of climate change or global warming. What's the point if that's what will stop a bill in its tracks?

Last night I saw mean-spirited little kids who acted like their pants were too tight, tearing at their opponents with snarling smiles. If these are our political leaders, our system is shot. If they can label you "bad" because you don't go to their church, if they can call you "evil" because you disagree with them on charged emotional issues, if their strategy is to become the good guys by making everyone who disagrees with them the bad guys, they're the immature ones. And I've got no time for them anymore.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sorry, Lady, You're Just Not Right Enough

This is probably an indication of where the Republican Party is going. I shouldn't be surprised, yet I am.

Dede Scozzafazza is a moderate Republican Assemblywoman who was running for Congress in the 23rd Congressional District against Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. She's been under intense fire from Republicans, including Sarah Palin, who label her as too "liberal" in her stances on gay rights, abortion rights and fiscal issues.

She has now pulled out of the race as a new poll shows her too far behind to catch up and she says her campaign doesn't have the money necessary to do an advertising blitz. She hasn't endorsed either candidate. Really - how could she?

The blogs are buzzing today; this could be the sign of things to come. Republicans who don't toe the line that the Rush Limbaugh set have drawn way over to the right may be bumped aside by third party challengers who are willing to stand way over there.

"I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices," said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who had endorsed Scozzafava.

Read more:

Fred Thompson (you remember him, don't you?) is already putting his truly significant support behind Hoffman.

And here's what Scozzafazza had to say: It is increasingly clear that pressure is mounting on many of my supporters to shift their support. Consequently, I hereby release those individuals who have endorsed and supported my campaign to transfer their support as they see fit to do so. I am and have always been a proud Republican. It is my hope that with my actions today, my Party will emerge stronger and our District and our nation can take an important step towards restoring the enduring strength and economic prosperity that has defined us for generations.

On Election Day my name will appear on the ballot, but victory is unlikely. To those who support me – and to those who choose not to – I offer my sincerest thanks.


If the Republican Party is going to be taken over by the hard line Right Wing, I can actually envision a viable third party emerging; a place where those blue dog Democrats and moderate Republicans can meet. But they'd better hurry up and do it.
Glenn Beck, The Cheney Clan, Rush and Sarah P. are very effective at getting the word out and somehow many people are buying it.

I have a growing sense that the ultra right is growing more and more paranoid and the rhetoric I'm hearing is designed to frighten any sympathetic listener into believing the new mantra: If you're not with us, you're with the Devil.

It's going to take not just liberals and progressives, but moderates to show them for the fear-mongerers they are.