Friday, December 31, 2004

Holiday weekend Republican surprise!

Hey hey! The House Republicans are talking about weakening their ethics rules. Might as well make it official, huh? Seriously, it's no surprise that this is coming from the party of loose morals and brazen hypocrisy.

Notice how the Republicans are releasing this right before a big holiday weekend, on a Friday when lots of people are off work and not paying attention to the news, anyway? That’s the way these sleazeballs work: if they want to do something distasteful, they make sure news of it gets out when the media cycle is the least likely to hold them accountable for it.

Weakened ethics rules… Cripes, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Republicans. They’d make murder legal if they… hold on, they haven’t made murder legal yet, have they? The party of Reagan, Nixon and DeLay is no longer incapable of surprising me.

Another story planted to be buried before a long weekend is the one about Justice [sic] Clarence Thomas taking $42,000 in bribes. We have got to restore honor, dignity and integrity to our government. This is the most corrupt, mendacious pack of criminals who have ever descended on Washington.

It's almost 2005. Noon today was the exact middle of this decade. I wish I could say something more uplifting, vis-à-vis wishes for the new year, but I'm not feeling too positive right now. I guess my hope is that the vermin in the Bush administration will be exposed for the crooks that they are, and that we'll be able to toss them out of office or at least neutralize them before they do too much more damage. That's my sincere wish for 2005, before I knock off work and go out drinking. What's yours?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Rush Limbaugh speaks out!

What does Rush Limbaugh have to say about the Washington gubernatorial verdict? I have no idea, because I haven't even tuned in to that gasbag since 1998. But if I did, I might hear something like this:

"What, what, what is it with these liberals taking jobs away from conservative politicians? Don't they realize that counting all the votes is no way to decide an election? How dare they not take this one to the Supreme Court again! This is an outrage!"

Again: congratulations, Governor-Elect Gregoire!

"How 'bout a revote?"

Cripes, is anyone surprised? Christine Gregoire asked for a recount in the narrow Washington gubernatorial race. Supporters of Republican candidate Dino Rossi, who lead by a few hundred votes before the recount, groused openly about this, saying that the votes were in and we should usher Rossi to Olympia and call it a day. The Gregoire campaign pushed for the recount, which turned up a number of votes that had been called into question—many of which were provisional ballots cast by poll workers who knew they wouldn’t have time to make it to the polls on Election Day. A judge allowed that these be counted. Were these ballots legitimate? Well, if you note that one of the ballots belonged to the head of the Washington State Democratic Party, it’s tough to assume that we’re talking about fraud. (Honestly: would the head of any political party likely be an illegitimate voter?)

So now that the recounts have shown Gregoire winning by 129 votes, Rossi is throwing the only thing he’s got left in his depleted arsenal: he wants a revote. How disappointing for Rossi—the Republican tactic of stonewalling and dismissing recounts that worked so well for them during the 2000 presidential race and the 2002 Alabama gubernatorial race has failed them in Washington state this year. Now Rossi, officially a loser, is calling for the fairest resolution to such a situation, only after every other venue of his grasping to his narrow lead has failed him. Hell, I felt a revote was only appropriate in Florida in 2000, but the Republicans just rolled over it. I’m okay with a revote in Washington right now, too, but that possibility was wiped out by Rossi’s clutching. Had he called for a revote right after the election I might not call Mr. Rossi disingenuous about this, but now he just looks like a sour-grapes sore loser.

One thing that would serve America well would be if we could somehow not marginalize the loser in political races. If the loser could still have some measure of authority—if only among his or her own supporters, or perhaps through minority status in government—then this alienation of large parts of the population wouldn’t happen after each election, particularly the close ones. Further, more people would feel inclined to participate in the electoral process. If your candidate would have minority status in government even after losing an election, you’d still feel your vote for a loser was actually making a difference.

I don’t know how this would work, exactly, but less minority disenfranchisement would serve a democracy better. Think back to 1993, when the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. The Republicans did all they could to block any and all bill that the Democrats (and President Clinton especially) brought up. Had the minority Republicans had more of a voice, they wouldn’t have spent the past ten years gumming up government and tearing down public utilities like schools and Social Security.

This post originally appeared here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

War is peace, division is unity...

Mkay, I’m back after six days in beautiful, snow-covered western Pennsylvania. ‘Twas the season, so that’s why blogging has been light. I’m back after a week of overindulgence in traditional Christmas foods such as chocolate, ham, and kielbasa. And coffee, plenty of coffee. Now my body has been impurified to the extreme, choking with chemicals and substances that nutritionists will advise you to keep to the most extreme moderation. I’m logy and moving slow, probably due in part to this indulgence and in part to these long nights. Really, the cold I can deal with, but this lack of daylight is just too much. At least I’m not depressed; I’m just dragging.

Speaking of slow, a friend of mine told me that he saw an interview with our esteemed chief executive recently (but what media outlet this was, I don’t know.) Mr. Bush was asked what he felt his greatest accomplishment of his first term was. To this he replied, “Uniting the country.”

Okay, this is one of the single biggest heaps of steaming crap ever to issue forth from a politician’s mouth. I’m sure some of you out there disagree with my feelings toward the president, but even his most fervent supporters must agree that there’s no way he’s united the country. I guess you could reasonably say that Bush has united the two camps in this country: his supporters and his opponents alike. But a united country? Not hardly. Not a united United States, anyway. He’s sure united other countries against us, though.

Anyway, I’m back and I ought to be writing less rambling, more coherent posts… um… any time now. Just you wait…

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sounds like a typo to me.

The Wall Street Journal has a headline today that reads "Bush Vows to Halve Deficit." It probably ought to read "Bush Vows to Have Deficit." Someone typing up the copy for the headlines probably slipped up typing, I guess. We all make mistakes.

Solstice d'hîver

After that bit of Bush-loathing cheer, I guess I owe you something a bit more pleasant. Okay, then: to celebrate the winter solstice, I’m linking a photo of the cathedral in Strasbourg, France. I lived in Strasbourg for a year, and I remember the cathedral’s windows were arranged so that on the summer and winter solstices, light would spill in certain places. I can’t find a picture of that happening, but the interior of the cathedral is striking, and I always liked going there, so the link there is to a photo of the Pilier des Anges.

Back in those days, they wanted 10 francs to let you walk up the 333 spiraling steps to the roof, and it was worth it. You could see all over the city. I’m feeling nostalgic right now.

Joyeux Noël et bon nouvel an.

The under-thirty crowd preferred Kerry, too

How interesting. According to the NGP exit polls, voters under the age of thirty overwhelmingly voted for Kerry, and if you were to count their votes alone, Kerry would have come off with 375 electoral votes to Bush’s 163. Counting this way would have flipped a bunch of Bush states to Kerry, but only one Kerry state to Bush (Maine.)

What does it all mean, if anything? Well, the under-thirty crowd did a better job of casting their ballots this year, at least. Most people I know are over thirty, though (including myself,) and many of them voted for Kerry, and I’m glad they voted. We oldsters shouldn’t be shut out of the voting process just because there were so many among us who voted for deficit spending and solitary, illegal war in the Middle East. We do need a stern talking-to, though.

I wouldn’t read this as a case for optimism about the future. I made that mistake during this past election, believing that the people would vote their interests, and I was wrong. I spent much of November in a funk, and now I’m in a kind of oblivious detachment from the damage that my government is doing to my country and my world. It hurts too much to remain engaged, particularly since so many of the people who voted this time (as ever) aren’t really at all engaged in the issues, but rather with things like images and TV commercials and that sort of thing. Yes, Bush won extremely narrowly, but according to his administration and the Republicans in Congress, that gives him the right to ignore the narrow minority that finds what he’s doing and the way he’s doing it odious and objectionable.

Sometimes the wrong side wins. Sometimes governments manage to drive their nations in the wrong direction and over cliffs, either blind or indifferent to what they’re doing. Anyone who’s ever read history knows that it’s happened before, time and again, and there’s no reason to suspect it can’t happen again. A country as large, rich and successful will take much more poor policy to ruin, but it can be done. It would probably take longer for us than a lot of other nations, but it can happen. Maybe it’s these short winter days that have been getting me down, but I feel utterly defeated by a government that openly expresses contempt for me and for people like me. The Republican Party of today is hell-bent on cutting taxes, curbing civil rights and expanding the role of Christianity in shaping public policy—small wonder it’s demonizing progressives like myself.

I haven’t voted for a Republican since 1994. That was back when I still felt you ought to vote for the best candidate, regardless of the party. I’ve been a registered Democrat since 1992, I’ve been voting since 1988, and I’ve always leaned Democratic. But since the Republican Party has moved so far to the right, and since it’s actively trying to destroy my kind, well… damn them all to hell. You want culture war? You’ve got it.

I’m sure in a cheerful mood this morning, aren’t I? Well, it’s your fault, Bush voters. Get that crook out of office and I may cheer up. It’s worth a shot. So get on it!

Monday, December 20, 2004

The eternal pies

Right next to my desk in the office is where everyone leaves food for general consumption. It's Christmastime, so there's plenty of food there. What's peculiar is that someone left a bag of McDonald's apple pies there Friday afternoon—and they're still there!!!

Gross as hell. But I have to wonder: will it really make a difference how long they sit there? As any scientist will tell you: you never know for sure until you taste your experiments. (Fortunately, I'm no scientist...)

Kerik and Giuliani: Bluenosed Red-Staters versus red-faced Blue Staters

Bernie Kerik was given the catchy pseudo-honorific “America’s Top Cop” back in the days following the September 11 attacks. Mr. Kerik did have the ugly job of helping to mop up after that mess, though credit was generally given to Mayor Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani, reviled by New Yorkers in that special way that they revile their mayors (plus that special way they revile Republicans,) spent the last few months of his anointed by the press as “America’s Mayor,” frequently lauded as a “hero” and, for a while, as something that could almost be classed as a saint.

Kerik, on the other hand, kept to the shadows, leaving the glory to Giuliani. While Giuliani made the rounds on TV talk shows, giving interviews and singing George W. Bush’s praises, Kerik stuck to police work—or so it seems. He must have been doing something to exploit his position as a September 11 celebrity, because he landed a prominent stage appearance at the Republican Convention, helping the Bush campaign sell its message of imminent threats from within and without. It was synergy, certainly: Kerik helped Bush as much as he helped himself, if not more. “Terrorists are everywhere!” the Bush chorus warned, with Kerik joining, “Doom! DOOOOOOMMM!”

It seems that Kerik tried cashing in his chips by applying for Tom Ridge’s job. Ridge, the current Homeland Security Secretary, is stepping down so he can work in the private sector, saying that he needs to, because he can’t afford to send his kids to college in his current financial state. (Hey, Tom! I’m still paying off student loans, and I voted for you in 1994! As one of your former constituents, might I recommend you try subjecting your own kids to this? As such a strong Bush supporter, you obviously don’t think it’s so bad spending your twenties and thirties in debt…) Kerik’s problem, though, was that he apparently hired a nanny under the table, and now it’s coming back to haunt him. And now Kerik is radioactive—Bush wants nothing to do with him, Giuliani wants nothing to do with him, and Bernie Kerik is descending deeper and deeper into scandal. Besides this nanny issue, he has also been shown to have invested in companies that are directly involved with New York police business, and he’s also been found to have been dealing with the Mafia. What to do? What to do?

It’s hard to say what the Bush administration was thinking. They did, after all, seem to think that Kerik had been fully vetted. Did they think that Kerik’s Hero of September 11™ status would render him impervious to criticism? Did they figure that since there were no known sexual improprieties in his background that no one would give a damn? Or is the White House just plain incompetent? I’d say it’s probably all three, but it’s a sure bet that at least one of those applies.

I don’t know who’s going to get Ridge’s job. (I don’t see the wisdom in having a Homeland Security Secretary in the first place—isn’t that the job of the National Security Advisor?) What I do know is that it’s not going to be Bernie Kerik. If Kerik were smart, he’d have followed Giuliani’s lead and basked in the limelight without going through the messy business that holding public office holds you to. Seriously: Giuliani isn’t going to run for president, though you keep hearing his name tossed around as a likely candidate. Though he’s got the national stature, he’s got scandals of his own in his past. Giuliani’s scandals involve a mistress, though—not the sort of thing that will bring you down when running for Mayor of New York. If you’re running for President of the United States, it matters a little more, but it’s something you can overcome, if you’ve got enough charisma—and if you’re a Democrat. The Republican Party is too concerned with what people do in their bedrooms to allow Mayor Giuliani to even think about the presidency. (And Rudy’s support for gay rights won’t help him much with his party, either.)

Kerik is a victim of the Bush administration believing its own press. It kept telling us that it was beyond reproach because it was in charge of the country during the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history (even worse than Custer’s attack at Wounded Knee.) Kerik clearly didn’t see this coming, and neither did the Bush administration. Could we be returning to what President Harding termed “normalcy”? Are we once again be concerning ourselves with our officials using their offices for selfish purposes, with corruption connected to their offices rather than just with their personal lives? I’m not ready to say that the winds have shifted, but we can hope.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

M.C. O.D.B. ODs.

So the rap star M.C. O.D.B. OD’d on cocaine and Tramadol, a painkiller, last month. A couple years ago, rap star C-Murder was arrested for—brace yourself—murder. I don’t follow rap music, but it seems that rap stars’ names seem to take on qualities of self-fulfilling prophecies. Okay, okay, O.D.B. stands for Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and not OverDosed Body, but it’s a bit much of a coïncidence, you know? If I were a rap star, I’d call myself M.C. Doesn’t Get Killed At A Tender Young Age And Is Rich And Loved By All, or M.C. D.G.K.A.A.T.Y.A.A.I.R.A.L.B.A. for short.

On the other hand, it seems that Notorious B.I.G., who was indeed big, was shot to death, so I guess rap stars don’t always die from something related to their names. Of course, that shooting could well have had something to do with notoriety, so maybe there’s something to it, after all.

Nobody shot at Fab Five Freddie or Grandmaster Flash back in the early ‘80s. Just what is with rap stars these days, anyway? Ah, for the good old days, when things were simpler, and there was more breakdancing than bling-bling… O tempora, o mores!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

John McCain postures for bigger things.

So John McCain’s been pretty visible lately. The man’s obviously got other things on his mind besides being a good senator—but what? For a while I figured he’d be looking to vie for the Republican Party leader position in the Senate, since it’s long been established that Senator Frist is stepping down in 2006. Frist isn’t seeking a second Senate term; many speculate he’s eyeing a presidential run in 2008. Personally I find Frist as exciting as Lamar Alexander. In other words: as exciting as plain, cold oatmeal.

The obvious speculation is that McCain is gearing up for his own presidential run in 2008. Until recently, I didn’t think he’d do it. I’m still not sure, but I’m more inclined to think he will. I figured that since McCain would be 72 in 2008, he wouldn’t try the run, but that bit of conventional wisdom might not apply this time. 72 isn’t as advanced an age as it used to be.

There’s a feeling that McCain is a progressive, but I’ve never seen any evidence to back that up. He’s a considerably less repulsive conservative than Bush, but he’s still a conservative. He’d be more prone to work with Democrats and more prone to thumb his nose at the right wingers in his party (he’s already been decrying Donald Rumsfeld as “incompetent,”) but the last thing this country needs is another four to eight years of Republican administration. Still, he’s popular among Democrats and Republicans alike, and if Karl Rove doesn’t attack McCain’s military record like he did during the 2000 primaries, he could very well become our 44th president.

One thing that could stand in his way are the conservatives in his own party. If he doesn’t make nice with them (and make promises to them) by 2007, his presidential prospects are grim. But he probably will. After Bush and Rove attacked, degraded, and tarred McCain relentlessly during the 2000 primaries, McCain cozied up to Bush, supported Bush, and even campaigned for Bush during both the 2000 and 2004 elections. I’ll agree that there’s something to be said about making peace with your enemies, but the amoral personal attacks that Bush made are something quite different. McCain ought to know better than to trust Bush again. That McCain is rewarding a devil like Bush for this kind of behavior has certainly cost a lot of respect on my part.

Zwarte Pieten

A friend of mine clued me in about a bizarre Dutch Christmas tradition. These are the Zwarte Pieten, or "Black Petes," who help out Sinterklaas, the pope-like old man who delivers candy and presents to good little Christians all over Flanders. Sinterklaas and his assistant Zwarte Piet arrive in November from Spain, just like the Hapsburgs, and return every year on December 6. A little early for Christmas, I guess, but no one seems to mind. The trick is that you leave your shoes by the fireplace with some straw or carrots for Sinterklaas' white horse, and he in return puts candy in your shoes for you. Kind of gross, I guess, but here in the States we use our socks, so who am I to criticize?

What's a little disturbing about the Zwarte Pieten is the way they dress. They're done up like blacks in an old Christy Minstrels show, which might not mean anything to the Dutch, but if anyone tried doing themselves up like this in the U.S., the NAACP would be all over their asses in seconds.

This tradition seems a tad racist to me, frankly. Perhaps the American civil rights movement has left everyone in this country a little more sensitive than anywhere else. Some might say too sensitive—but I don't think so. I'd think there'd be complaints on the part of Dutch blacks about this, even though many of the participants no doubt mean no harm. I think I'm a rational person when it comes to these things, and the Zwarte Pieten seem a little inappropriate to me.

Click here for a picture of the Zwarte Pieten, as depicted by the Dutch these days.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Massacres at Palisades

Remember that old TV show, F Troop? It had a couple of seasons in the 1960s. The idea was that an army garrison out west didn't want to fight the Indians, and an Indian tribe out west didn't want to fight the army garrison, so they pretended like they were fighting just to impress the army leaders back in Washington. The garrison benefited because they didn't have to do any real work, and the Indians benefited because there wasn't a real garrison there killing them. Check your Nick at Nite listings; I'm sure you'll find it.

A couple of years ago, I found out that this show was based on a real event. The place was Palisades, Nevada—a little whistlestop in the middle of nowhere. Trains would pass through, maybe only to take on water or sand; not much was going on there. The citizens of Palisades figured they could make their town into something a bit more profitable if they could just get the trains to stop. But how?

Eventually the locals hit on the idea that all those Indian raids that were so thoroughly described in dime novels would be something that people would love to see. So they had a group of Indians "attack" incoming trains. Not real Indians, though; just locals dressed up. Then not-real cavalry would ride in and drive off the Indians. Whenever the passenger trains would approach Palisades, the raids would start.

These were no small pageants, either. People got killed—sort of. Soldiers and Indians alike would fall in battle daily, splattered with fake blood. Then they'd do laundry and wait for the next train.

After a while, the railroad started routing passenger trains through Palisades, since this was so popular. After all, you got all that excitement, and no passengers were ever hurt or even wounded. What's not to love? Trains would stop in Palisades for an hour or two. While passengers seldom dared to step off the train and into this dangerous spot, locals would approach the trains and sell sandwiches and things through the windows.

Eventually, word of all this reached the Army, and they were pretty embarrassed that such a rough, violent spot like Palisades was raging the way it was. When the Army arrived, the people of Palisades had some explaining to do, and with that explanation they lost their tourist attraction.

I don't know if Palisades still exists. My map doesn't say anything about it. I've never even been to Nevada, but I swear this is all true.

'Tis the season, boychik

A friend of mine told me years ago that Mel Blanc had a son named Noel. It's his only son, and it's a nice name, but few people would think much of it. I didn't, and apparently Mr. Blanc didn't either, until years after his son was born, when someone said to Mel, "Hey, you know that your son's name means 'White Christmas' in French?" And so it does. Mel had no idea, and found this very amusing. That's a hell of a name to have, if you're Jewish—which the Blancs are.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Sim Kerry and Sim Bush

Okay, if you know The Sims, this ought to make sense to you. If you don't, then you might be confused, and should probably google it before you click the link that you can follow by clicking the title of this post, just above.

Damn, what a riot. My Sims games never work out this well!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Away in a WalMart

Just in time for this festive season, I wrote a Christmas song! Okay, I wrote the words. If you sing this to the tune of Away in a Manger it'll work just fine. (It kind of works to the tune of Try to Remember a Time in September, too, but that detracts from its yuletide charm.)

Happy holidays!

Away in a WalMart,
With low overhead.
Great deals and low prices,
What more to be said?
The loudspeaker calls you:
“Big sale in aisle four!”
There’s “USA” sweatshirts
Made in Singapore.

Away in Karachi,
More textiles are made.
At eight cents an hour
Baluchis are paid.
They shiver in hovels
From cradle to grave,
Slaving for WalMart,
So that you can save.

Away in Ohio,
A fact’ry shut down.
And broad unemployment
Has crippled some town.
The workers were cast off
When a bean-counting sage
Found that Pakistanis
Don’t get minimum wage.

Are you hungry, man?

I was in the Tribeca Food Emporium today after work. It's where I usually do my grocery shopping. I didn't really need to buy anything, but I had to go back to look at what I noticed there yesterday. It was incredible. It was chilling. It was a Swanson's Hungry Man™ Hearty Breakfast. You know Swanson's, right? The people who make prepared meals frozen in aluminum trays that used to be called TV dinners? Well, they're still around, though I haven't had their products in years. I wasn't looking for it, but it just sort of jumped out of the freezer case at me and made me look. I saw what I saw, and I can't unsee it, so I'll tell. The Hungry Man™ Hearty Breakfast is quite a meal. The box told me that it includes:
  • buttermilk pancakes
  • French toast
  • hash browns
  • potatoes
  • sausage

The cover of the box proudly announces that it contains "Over 1 lb. of food." What I find noteworthy is that it includes both hash browns and potatoes. That's quite a deal, if your diet is running low on starch.

And what's in the Hearty Breakfast, ingredients-wise? Well, I didn't take the time for that. Suffice it to say, a quarter of the back panel was taken up with a yellow label mostly in Latin and Greek, explaining what everything is made of. I remember one of the ingredients being aluminum oxide. Now that's hearty!

In case you're wondering what kind of nutrition the Hearty Breakfast brings home, they broke that down for you, too. This product brings you 74% of your daily recommended sodium intake, 42% of your carborhydrates, 29% of your dietary fiber, 85% of your daily cholesterol, 94% of your daily fats and—ta dah!—103% of your daily saturated fats, all packed into 1,170 delicious calories, 550 of which come from fat! Sounds like good eatin' to me!

A tough-but-friendly-looking guy is looking at you right in the eye from the back panel, wearing a plain blue tee shirt and raising his right index finger. Under him the box reads, "I know what I like, and I like a lot of it." Yeah, well, okay; I'd say the Hearty Breakfast has a lot. Not bad fare if you're going to head out to plow the back forty before lunch... and if the food were made of stuff that's, y'know, not from a chemistry lab.

The box also tells you, "It's good to feel full.™" Um... sure. You can accomplish fullness with carrots and water, if that's what you're after (not that that constitutes a real meal, either.) I just can't wrap my head around the test audience for these things. But considering how popular fast food is these days, I guess it's not inconceivable you'd find lots of people who are interested in a breakfast of nearly 1200 calories that's half fat. The box didn't say anything about serving sizes, but if the product's called Hungry Man and not Hungry Men, I guess that pound of food in the aluminum trough counts as one serving.

Hungry now? Yeah, me neither...