Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hopeful News

You never know what's the next Big Thing, and what's hype. Remember the Wankel engine? It was going to change everything.

Only it didn't.

But this looks good. Scientists at the University of Michigan have built something that efficiently converts the movement of water (tide, current) into significant amounts of electricity, even if the water is moving slowly. Sounds good. Hope it holds up.

Afterthought: Why are we reading about this in a British newspaper?

What Happened to the Acorns?

This is about neither history nor politics, but it's too weird not to share. Apparently the squirrels are going hungry this year:

The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.

The rest of the story is here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bush Pardons Libby!

Thanksgiving Postmortem

Well, the morning radio has no stories about vast numbers of people showing up at local area hospitals with food poisoning, so hopefully it is safe to admit that we fed about 90 people yesterday, in the culmination of a 2-month build-up of turkey stock creating and turkey gravy making.

For most of those two months the work is done in people's homes, with activity getting more frenetic during Thanksgiving week. About cooking turkeys, I survived my crash course and am now something of an expert (six turkeys and three breasts in 48 hours). On Tuesday night we set up the 8-foot tables and get out the extra chairs. Then linen table clothes are laid, and the tables are set.

On Wednesday night, the celery is chopped, the stuffing is made, and the potatoes are peeled and cut up into pieces to make them easier to boil.

Other things happen on Wednesday night, but by then I was so tired I can't remember them.

Starting at 8:30 Thanksgiving morning, I load up the car with frozen turkey stock and gravy. If you've ever sent us Omaha Steaks, you've played a role in this part of the adventure.

Then the baked breads (cranberry and pumpkin) and various pans and utensils get loaded in and we're at the scene of the crime by 9:15. Other folks start arriving soon afterward, and the cooking gets underway. Here, four colorful Kitchen-Aides are used to mash potatoes.

As we get closer to meal time, the "jello salad" is put out and the tables are made ready. You can see the "jello salad" here. This is something straight out of the 1950's, and there's general agreement that this year was its last appearance. It looks pretty, though (except for that blech poured on top of it).

The assembly lines are formed, the doors are opened, and the Big Show begins.

I pretty much hate Thanksgiving until the doors are opened. Then it's wonderful to watch the terrific folks who have given up a part of their holiday to do this little amazing thing.

Then it's clean-up time.

Suellen worked really hard on this, and it came out fine.

Just want to make sure
: Did I happen to mention that I cooked six turkeys and three turkey breasts?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Big Day

Six turkeys and three turkey breasts later, I can say that it's not the cooking that's awful, it's getting the meat off the bones. Show time in 6-1/2 hours. I will not be eating turkey. For some reason, I can't stand the thought of eating turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

And don't miss Gail Collin's list of things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Write Your Own Caption

For the next couple of days I'll be in our church basement (which, being anglophile Episcopalians, we ostentatiously call "the undercroft") baking six or seven turkeys for the big feed we put on on Thanksgiving. I'll also be scrubbing the church kitchen down with bleach, hoping to keep us from poisoning the people who come to eat them.

So if I don't post for the next couple of days, you'll know why.

Restoring Confidence

The NY Times has some worthwhile reads this morning.

Perhaps you noticed the uncritical enthusiasm on yesterday's television news programs for the selection of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, and Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council. The editorialists at the Times are not quite so enthusiastic:

As treasury secretary in 2000, Mr. Summers championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments — a k a toxic assets — that have spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He refused to heed the critics who warned of dangers to come.

That law, still on the books, reinforced the false belief that markets would self-regulate. And it gave the Bush administration cover to ignore the ever-spiraling risks posed by derivatives and inadequate supervision.


At the New York Fed, Mr. Geithner has been one of the ringmasters of this year’s serial bailouts. His involvement includes the as-yet-unexplained flip-flop in September when a read-my-lips, no-new-bailouts policy allowed Lehman Brothers to go under — only to be followed less than two days later by the even costlier bailout of the American International Group and last weekend by the bailout of Citigroup.

Bob Herbert talks about how to wisely spend economic stimulus payments:

Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut is sponsoring a bill that would create an infrastructure bank with a bipartisan board of directors and a chief executive to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The board would streamline the process of reviewing and signing off on major infrastructure proposals. It would determine the value to the public of each project — and its environmental impact. It would provide federal investment capital for approved projects and use that money to leverage private investment.

“Our major economic competitors in the 21st century are spending seven, eight, nine percent of their gross domestic product on infrastructure,” said Senator Dodd. “We’re spending almost nothing at all.”

The U.S. is moving from a period in which leaders spent money on wars and on lavish tax cuts for the rich, but not on investments in the nation’s future. That era of breathtaking irresponsibility must come to an end. Which means that now, with so much federal money soon to be available for infrastructure projects, it’s crucially important to spend the money as wisely as possible.

Finally, saving the most depressing story for last,

Just as the world seemed poised to combat global warming more aggressively, the economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.

From Italy to China, the threat to jobs, profits and government tax revenues posed by the financial crisis has cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bob Jones University: "Sorry 'bout that!"

How about this!

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Bob Jones University has apologized for racist policies including a one-time ban on interracial dating that wasn't lifted until nine years ago and its unwillingness to admit black students until 1971.

The private fundamentalist Christian school that was founded in 1927 said its rules on race were shaped by culture instead of the Bible, according to a statement posted Thursday on the university's Web site.

The university in northwestern South Carolina, with about 5,000 students, didn't begin admitting black students until nearly 20 years after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling found public segregated schools were unconstitutional.

"We failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful," the statement said.

The interracial dating ban was lifted in March 2000, not long after the policy became an issue in the Republican presidential primary that year. Then-candidate George W. Bush was criticized when he spoke at the school during one of his first campaign stops in the state after losing in New Hampshire.

Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones decided to issue the apology because the school still receives questions about its views on race.
Although Bob Jones University is in Greenville, not Columbia.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Somali Pirates in Bid to Acquire Citigroup

Somali Pirates in Discussions to Acquire Citigroup

By Andreas Hippin
November 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Somali pirates, renegade Somalis known for hijacking ships for ransom in the Gulf of Aden, are negotiating a purchase of Citigroup.

The pirates would buy Citigroup with new debt and their existing cash stockpiles, earned most recently from hijacking numerous ships, including most recently a $200 million Saudi Arabian oil tanker. The Somali pirates are offering up to $0.10 per share for Citigroup, pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said earlier today. The negotiations have entered the final stage, Ali said.

The rest of the story is here.

This would be funnier if we hadn't taken such a bath on Citigroup ourselves.

Trying Something New

I've added a little widget called "Feedjit" on the left that tracks where people are coming from when they visit Sempringham. It's kind of fun, but there's a creepy element to it, too, and I'm not sure I'll keep it. Click around on it a little, especially "Watch in real time," the map, and "Options."

If you'd prefer not to have Feedjit record your visit (which it does by city, only) go to "Options" and tell it to "Ignore my browser."

When I first started doing Sempringham, I used another tool to discover it got hits from Indonesia and China, but that international traffic has backed off, now.

After 8 Years

George W. Bush is warmly welcomed at the G20 summit, and shows the class that has made him Leader of the Free World.

It Was Bound to Happen

Obama draws criticism for his appearance on 60 Minutes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Here's a Smile for Your Face

From Gallup:

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Republican Party's image has gone from bad to worse over the past month, as only 34% of Americans in a Nov. 13-16 Gallup Poll say they have a favorable view of the party, down from 40% in mid-October. The 61% now holding an unfavorable view of the GOP is the highest Gallup has recorded for that party since the measure was established in 1992.

Minnesota Recount

The recount of ballots in the Minnesota Senatorial race is underway.

Minnesota Public radio has some examples of challenged ballots here.

Lizard people?

When You Put on the Nose, It Grows!

I hope you got to see some of the Congressional testimony by the chief executives of the Big Three automakers yesterday. It reminded me of the title of a comedy album made by Firesign Theater about 35 years ago, "I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus," from which my title is a quote. Another memorable line, Fudd's First Law of Opposition: "If you push something hard enough, it will fall over."

About that testimony: Dana Milbank has a write-up of the pathetic blatherings on both sides of the table here.

These guys came to Congress to ask for $25 billion to get them through the next few months. How did they come up with that figure? Nobody could say.

When Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) tried to find out when GM would run out of cash, Wagoner hemmed and hawed until the lawmaker protested that "I don't quite understand what the hell you just told me." When Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) asked about GM's outlook for the quarter, Wagoner informed him that "we don't provide financial guidance in earnings."

If we're going to risk our money on this venture, we need to put these Bozos off the bus.

Addendum: Although we can laugh at these guys, the message is very grim. The economy is swirling down the toilet, and for these guys it's all a game. We're in more trouble than we thought.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Al Qaeda Welcomes Obama

Ayman al-Zawahri, who does a lot more talking than Osama bin Laden these days, released a warm welcome to Obama today:

You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America. And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning ‘House Negroes’ are confirmed.

Wow! Talk about fighting the culture wars of the 60's!

Food Pantry

This was the scene when I arrived at Food Pantry this morning. They had opened the doors early, and 200 people were already inside.

By the time the doors closed at 12:30 p.m., 415+ families had been served. Luckily, we had a lot of volunteers from the Methodist Church that hosts the pantry. I spent most of the morning breaking up boxes that had contained food, then stuffing them into other boxes for disposal. This is exhausting work for older guys like me.

Last night, 40 bags of groceries were prepared ahead of time specifically for first-timers, who didn't get a full distribution today. We ran out of these bags at about 11 a.m., so I switched jobs to prepare more.

This is what each of these first-timers got:

• 1 box of instant oatmeal
• 1 can of tuna
• 1 can of fruit
• 1 can of green beans
• 1 can of pork & beans
• 2 apples (later, when I was running low, 1 apple)
• 3 onions about the size of golf balls

I prepared 28 bags.

Keep your family and friends close, and be thankful.

A Team of Rivals?

Have you noticed how many times, in the past week, you've heard references to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Abe Lincoln's cabinet? It all started when word got out that Obama is considering Hillary Clinton for the Secretary of State position (a brilliant political move, all other merits and demerits aside, and especially if she turns it down).

In no time, every commentator was talking about Goodwin's book. In his 60 Minutes interview, Obama even played along.

Now another Civil War historian, Matthew Pinsker, has written an op-ed piece in the LA Times which refutes Goodwin's thesis, concluding:

Lincoln's Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.

Lincoln was a political genius, but his model for Cabinet-building should stand more as a cautionary tale than as a leadership manual.
Goodwin's is an interesting idea, but I must say, when I first heard of her approach I thought, "Well, that's a different take on it!"

So far, it doesn't look like this Team of Rivals thing is really shaping up. Clinton hasn't decided to go for it, yet, and may decide to pass on the opportunity. In which case it looks like it could be Richardson, who maybe technically qualifies as a rival, but who endorsed Obama early enough in the race to hurt Hillary and be called Judas Iscariot by Doofis Bumpus.

Who else have we got so far? Daschle. Holder. Rahm Emanuel. Axelrod. Does Biden even count? No other rivals yet. And what other "rivals" are there? You don't think John Hagee is going to be offered a spot, do you? So maybe that Team of Rivals stuff is just one of those things that's fun for a few days, gets us almost interested enough to read the book, then goes away.

Next: the Norquist Crowd

Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist who was led to the scaffold by right wing lunatics when she dared declare the obvious (Sarah Palin is not qualified for V.P.), has her last cigarette and puts on the blindfold with Giving Up on God.

Ms. Parker has taken an important first step. But someone should remind her that this is a 12-step program.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Calling Out the Conservatives

Paul Krugman puts an end to the right wing lie that the housing bubble was caused not by lack of regulation, but by the Community Reinvestment Act, a "do-gooder" effort to make home ownership more available to lower income families.
Some readers have asked for data showing that Fannie and Freddie did not play a key role in the housing bubble. Mark Thoma has a good picture, link here [shown above].

The two lines to track are the ones at the top. One shows the share of mortgages accounted for by S&Ls, the other the share accounted for by agency-backed pools — i.e., Fannie/Freddie mortgages. Fannie and Freddie did get very big in the 90s, basically filling the hole left by the S&Ls. But they pulled back sharply after 2003, just when housing really got crazy.

So who drove the bubble? The blue line, “asset-backed securities issuers.” Notice, by the way, that these were not depository institutions — and therefore not subject to the Community Reinvestment Act.

Once again, the whole Fannie/Freddie/liberal mandates story is phony.
You'll still hear the story, though, because stories is all they have.

By the way, did you see Krugman's slap-down of George Will's revisionist "story" of the Great Depression?

It's morning in America. Policy based on facts is coming back!

Monday, November 17, 2008

How a President Talks

We've had eight long years of cringing whenever the President opened his mouth. And we were threatened with at least four years of pistol packin' Palin's winks and dropped g's. So it's an incredible relief to listen to the President-elect and think, "This guy knows what he's doing. We're going to be in good hands."

If you missed the 60 Minutes interview with Obama, here's the non-family part (after a short commercial).

Ghost Writer

I haven't felt much like blogging since the election. Once the devil is smashed, what's the fun of condemning the devil?

So I took a few days off.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked in to Sempringham and discovered that posts had been made in my absence! Posts about General Motors, and consumer confidence, and presumptuous priests.

It was all very confusing. Am I getting forgetful? Am I losing my mind? (Helpful opinions on that issue are not solicited.)

It all became clear last night, in the middle of the night, when I heard the tapping of a keyboard in the computer room. Suellen is prone to small-hour networking, but she was beside me in bed. This was disconcerting.

I reached for a flashlight and tiptoed into the computer room, where I found my ghost writer:

Suellen will probably make me say that this didn't really happen.

Cokie Roberts

If you want a dose of inside-the-beltway conventional wisdom, Cokie Roberts is always a safe bet.

So when she says that the "NetRoots" is unlikely to accept Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, as she has said more than once this week, what she is really saying is that conventional, inside-the-beltway wisdom is that there is an "other" (as in, not us) called "NetRoots," that "NetRoots" is anti-Hillary, and that is because it is wild-eyed leftist.

All of which suggests she doesn't spend much time on the net. But it's always useful to know what conventional wisdom is saying.

GM Bailout?

A pretty good argument for bailing out GM can be found here.

Several articles have pointed to the fact that President Carter bailed out Chrysler with loans, and the loans were paid back. And several articles (such as the one linked to above) have argued that the cost of letting GM fail would be far greater than the cost of rescuing it.

Real Virginian says, in a comment below:

One reason the car companies don't want chapter 11 bankruptcy is their reasonable fear that nobody will buy a car from a bankrupt Ford or GM because the warranty is compromised. Listening to Obama on 60 Minutes tonight, I'd say he seems to recognize that a "bailout" of the car companies would require some concessions from labor as well as management in order to protect the taxpayers' investment. This is no knee-jerk Democratic concession to the unions. Let's hope.

Indeed, the Chrysler bailout required concessions from both management and the labor unions.

One reason some "economic purists" want to let GM fail is because it will result, they believe, in the destruction of the United Auto Workers. This will allow Adam Smith's free market (i.e., anarchic) principles to reign, a prospect they look forward to with delight.

It was surprising to some (okay, to me), to see Paul Samuelson supporting a GM rescue.

Make a Note

Paul Krugman spots and debunks the latest conservative Republican flim-flam:

So I was listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger before doing the This Weak round table, and he was mostly making sense — except for one thing. He asserted, as a simple matter of fact, that “government created the housing bubble”, because Fannie and Freddie made all these loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them.

This is utterly false. Fannie/Freddie did some bad things, and did, it turns out, get to some extent into subprime. But thanks to the accounting scandals, they were actually withdrawing from the market during the height of the housing bubble — the vast majority of the loans now going bad came from the private sector.

Yet it’s now clear that the phony account of the crisis — that it’s all due to Fannie, Freddie, and nasty liberals forcing poor Angelo Mozilo to make loans to Those People — is setting in as Republican orthodoxy, part of what you have to believe to be a respectable member of the party.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Truth Hurts

Another GM Perspective

From Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

BAILING OUT GM....The basic argument against bailing out GM (and Ford and Chrysler) is fairly simple: They're dinosaurs who can't compete, don't make good cars, have a terrible corporate culture, and will never get better. If we're willing to bail out companies like these, where will the bailouts stop?

The basic argument in favor is also fairly simple: Even if all that stuff is true, and even if in normal times we'd let them die, right now we're on the edge of a truly catastrophic recession. Killing them off, along with the 2-3 million jobs they support, could be just the catalyst that turns a catastrophic recession into a full-blown depression. We'd be cutting off our economic noses to spite our free market faces.

But would Chapter 11 reorganization really be all that terrible? Maybe not. Maybe the companies would shed a few jobs, but in the end come back leaner and stronger. That's an argument that strikes me as persuasive, but what if it turns out that Chapter 11 isn't an option? Jon Cohn explains:

In order to seek so-called Chapter 11 status, a distressed company must find some way to operate while the bankruptcy court keeps creditors at bay. But GM can't build cars without parts, and it can't get parts without credit. Chapter 11 companies typically get that sort of credit from something called Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) loans. But the same Wall Street meltdown that has dragged down the economy and GM sales has also dried up the DIP money GM would need to operate.

That's why many analysts and scholars believe GM would likely end up in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would entail total liquidation.
If this is true, it probably tips the scale in favor of a bailout — especially given the cost, quality, and labor reforms that all three automakers have already put in place over the past few years. Maybe. For now, I'm just passing this along, but I'll keep my eye out for anyone else either confirming or debunking the Chapter 7 scenario.

Should Taxpayers Save General Motors?

Here are some 30,000-foot pros and cons.

The question to ask before "Should we?" is "Can we?" And it sounds like we don't have much time to decide.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Consumer Confidence

Michael Kinsley gives a very readable description of how a loss in consumer confidence works in real time -- while considering purchasing a coffee machine with a "burr grinder".

My mind followed an unfamiliar path. I thought of all the coffee makers we already have, and how each of them had let us down. I thought about another clock to reset twice a year or face its accusatory blinking in the kitchen dark. I asked myself whether attempting to master another set of instructions written in English as a Second Language was really the best use of a month of my time.

For possibly the first time ever, I considered the question of getting the thing home (the issue: juggle coffee maker and fare card on the Metro, or eat up my bargain with a $20 cab ride) before I owned it rather than after. I even remembered — as I had vowed to do the last time my consumer confidence boiled over like this — the trauma of disposing the corrugated cardboard box and all those infuriating blocks of Styrofoam. I went home empty-handed, and my consumer confidence was shot.

I’m not the only one. “Consumer confidence” is plummeting nationwide. Those famous attitude surveys from the University of Michigan say so and actual consumption statistics confirm it. October retail sales were down double digits from a year ago. Most of this drop represents people who suddenly are poorer, or feel that way. But there also is some concern that the great American shopping spree may be over. We have all the stuff we need.

South Carolina is not North Carolina

Members of my family will be especially interested in this, because it concerns a church we attended (albeit, more than 50 years ago). Via Talking Points Memo.

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

"Our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president," Newman wrote, referring to Obama by his full name, including his middle name of Hussein.

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation."

Don't you just love the arrogance?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Franken/Coleman, or, if you wish, Coleman/Franken

If you think the continuing Senatorial election in Minnesota is very un-Minnesota-like-ish, that's probably because you remember Minnesota as the land of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Those days are gone.

Gail Collins has a great round-up (send-up?) of the current status in Minnesota here.

And while you're at it, Timothy Egan's reflection on Alaska politics is not funny but worth the read.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As GM Goes ...

A former president of GM famously said, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Over the years, this has morphed into "As GM goes, so goes the nation." Let's hope that's not true!

Tom Friedman has a good column about the whole mess, and he names names. The fact that the management of GM has not been put out on the street is a constant source of wonder. Do they have photos of a majority of stockholders in compromising positions?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meanwhile, In an Alternate Universe

It's been quoted in two reputable places already, so it must be true. Powerline is a popular blog for people with no ethics, no understanding of history, and no sense of reality. Which is why, I guess, we should not be surprised to see this advice there for Obama:

Obama thinks he is a good talker, but he is often undisciplined when he speaks. He needs to understand that as President, his words will be scrutinized and will have impact whether he intends it or not. In this regard, President Bush is an excellent model; Obama should take a lesson from his example. Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly.

He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn't raise his standards, he will exceed Bush's total before he is inaugurated.

Yes, you read that right. But consider this: 27% of Americans still think George Bush has done a good job.

Food Pantry, Again

This article from today's NY Times reminded me that I hadn't written about the food pantry last week.

This is part of the line outside the food pantry Wednesday morning. We normally get 130 families a week, and you can only come one week a month. Last week we served more than 200 families. It was a mad house. And, as the article points out, there's less and less food to pass out -- not just because the number of families is increasing, but because the amount of food is decreasing.

If you're looking for something to do with all the money you've made in the market this year, your local food pantry could make good use of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Family Member

Say hello to Waveland, the latest addition to our little family.

We picked up Waveland today at Paws, a no-kill shelter here in Chicago. He got his name from the animal rescue shelter in Waveland, Mississippi, where he found a home after Hurricane Gustav. The folks at Paws named him, not us, but because a booming home run at Wrigley Field lands up on Waveland Avenue, so far we haven't changed the name.

"Adopting" a cat is sure a more complicated business than taking in a stray. We had to sit though 45 minutes of cat counseling, during which I promised not to eat Waveland until he was at least 12 pounds. Nobody laughed. Then we had to sign a contract, which signed away our Fourth Amendment rights. I think there was something about a college fund in there, too. And they're going to follow up on Waveland, to make sure he gets his shots, I guess.

You may have seen something about this shelter on TV. Oprah has been there; there's even a room named after her. Oh, I didn't mention the rooms. The cats are kept in rooms that are as good as any Super 8 you've ever stayed at. But they all have glass windows and doors so you can see the cats kept in each room. Other rooms and areas are named after some of the richest people in Chicago, so the place is nicely supported.

And this is very likely the place that's going to supply the puppy for the Obama girls. They're looking for a noodle-poodle, or something like that.

So far Waveland either runs around like a crazy man, or naps. He'll fit right in.

: You're probably wondering, "Why do they have to go all the way to Mississippi to get kittens? Doesn't Chicago have enough stray cats? Or is this yet another example of the blue states bailing out the red states?"

Well, the story I heard was that Paws used to offer Chicago cats for adoption, but the cats kept flashing gang signs, and that unnerved folks.

South Park Does the Mormons

I am not tuned in to popular culture. I can watch American Idol for almost one minute before I look for something else to do. I look at the covers of People or US or whatever in the grocery store check-out line and have no idea who those cover stories are about.

And so it's no surprise, I guess, that I've never watched South Park. But today I watched my first episode, about Mormons, and thought it was so funny I had to share it. I also think it's fair, though you may disagree.

Here it is. Enjoy.

WARNING: Very rough language.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Through Arab Eyes

This morning's NY Times excerpts some comments from Arab blogs concerning the election, including the three below. Here are some excerpts of the excerpts:

Esra’a, Bahrain (

This is a win for all of us, not just America.

This is a win for civil rights and justice.

For all the pessimists out there, allow us to enjoy this moment. If you learned anything from this campaign, you would learn that it starts with hope — not cynicism. And hope is what I have right now, for America and the Middle East.

We can do it, and this time, we can be sure that we can do it together.

I haven’t said this in a really long time, but I am loving America right now.
We can hear hints of troubles ahead, even here:

Egyptian Chronicles, Egypt (

The Egyptian people are glad that Obama won despite their previous knowledge of his bias to Israel, and his V.P. is a Zionist. But still they are happy because they can’t stand the Republicans anymore.

Good for the Americans.
And my personal favorite:

The Skeptic, Egypt (

A new day dawned in Cairo today. As it does every day.

And it started as it always does: with birds, schoolchildren and car horns. No national holiday here.

I’m looking forward to going out in the streets to hear the reaction. The best reaction I’ve heard so far: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”

Bah humbug. I confess I’m moved.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama's Press Conference

Obama's Press Conference was fine, except for a couple of things. When he was asked which of the former Presidents he had consulted with, he answered, "All of them." Then he clarified:

"I have spoken to all of them who are living. I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances."

That is going to be seen as a cheap shot. (I'm having a hard time figuring out how it was not.) What was the point of insulting Nancy Reagan? That's sure not a way of getting the Republicans to want to get along with him.

Also, I understood the intended humor of his calling himself a mutt, but that also made me uncomfortable. It was appropriate for the question, but not for the setting.

Oh, well.


WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama called Nancy Reagan on Friday to apologize for joking that she held seances in the White House.

At a news conference in Chicago, Obama said he had spoken with all the living presidents as he prepares to take office in January. Then he smiled and said, "I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any seances."

The 87-year-old former first lady had consulted with astrologers during her husband's presidency. But she did not hold conversations with the dead.

Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the president-elect later called Mrs. Reagan "to apologize for the careless and offhanded remark." She said Obama "expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share, and they had a warm conversation."

I feel better, now.

Election Night -- by My Better Half

I asked Suellen to record her own impressions of election night at the Obama Victory Celebration in Chicago, and it follows:


It snows history, which means what happens to somebody starts in a web of events outside the personal. It starts of course before he gets there. We’re all in history, that’s sure, but some more than others. (Bernard Malamud)

On November 4th, 2008, I got to be “in history”.

It started on October 28th, when I was in AOL and the email from the Obama campaign arrived (2:41 p.m.) ... Did I want a ticket for me and a guest for the rally in Grant Park on election night?

Now, Bob and I had talked about going ... even before we knew it was ticketed. We had decided that on SuperTuesday, we were as close to Obama as we were ever going to be ... and that really, watching it at home was just fine. Preferred even, from Bob’s point of view.

Even with all that, I clicked “register” ...

At 2:51 p.m., I got an email saying:


You will receive further ticketing information in the coming days.


The Democratic Party

Well, what did that mean exactly?

The next day, when Bob was at the food pantry, he was talking to a friend of ours ... and she had received a different email ... she was on a waiting list.

So, using the “look see” method, I had a good hunch that I was going to get a ticket.

Then my friend Susan called ... and she had heard on NPR about the 2 kinds of email responses ... and she was convinced that I had a ticket.

Sunday, November 2, the email arrived:

Thank you for signing up to receive a ticket for the Election Night event at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park, Chicago.

Your ticket will be emailed to you on Monday, November 3rd, between 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.

Each ticket is personalized for the ticket holder and is non-transferable.

You must print your ticket and bring it with you to the event. Each ticket is valid for you and one guest.


The Democratic Party

P.S. -- Ticket holders should walk towards Grant Park on Congress Parkway, then walk south on Columbus Drive to the site.

For security reasons, do not bring bags. Photo ID is required. Please limit personal items. No signs, banners, chairs, or strollers allowed.

Then came the hard part of “deciding”. Bob didn’t have to go ... I knew many people that would be happy to be my “guest” ... so it was up to Bob to decide if he wanted to go ... or stay at home and watch TV.

Election Day...

We voted early afternoon ... no line, but then our precinct is small ... and most everyone works.

I checked and double checked and triple checked that my drawn solid line was just that ... that I had indeed voted for Barack Obama.

All through this campaign process, I was afraid to hope too much. After all, I had felt this way once before ... with Bobby Kennedy.

My main task at Grant Park was to keep the jumbo-tron in my sights. Being short has real disadvantages in a crowd! We managed to find a small “hill” and not too many tall people. So the hours of watching returns come in began. CNN has a unique sound when they were about to make a projection … so the crowd did quiet some … and if the projection was for Obama, there were cheers and applause … and if the state went for McCain … boos.

You could tell that people were beginning to think “it might happen” … that the numbers might just be there … that this might be a real success … but no one, I think, was willing to say it outloud.

Everyone was, of course, waiting for the polls on the West coast to close … since those would be some big numbers. We counted down the seconds to 10:00 our time … and moments after that … CNN put up the message that they were projecting Obama the winner.

The crowd didn’t just cheer … it was a wave of a roar … it started at the front and rolled backwards … and I’m sure the very ground in Grant Park shook from the collective release of emotions. It was finally real. And the numbers were enough that it couldn’t be “stolen” … it was clear that all across the country, Obama’s message had been heard and people had listened and had decided to “vote for change”.

It took another hour for Obama to address the crowd … and the cheer for him at 11:00, while enthusiastic and loud, was nothing compared to the rumble that had happened an hour earlier. A "this is REAL" moment came before Obama spoke, when there was an announcement from the the stage, "1, 2, 1, 2 ... final sound check for the President-Elect of the United States".

During that hour, we listened to music, danced, and watched a film montage. At one point, the jumbo-tron showed the “presidential-elect motorcade” coming to Grant Park from whatever nearby hotel Obama and family had been at. And you realized his life was never going to be the same … that he was always going to be surrounded by Secret Service … and that for him to go anywhere was now “a production”. And the flip side of that … the Secret Service around McCain were no longer needed. He was just a citizen again.

Even though I knew going in to this event I would not have the same kind of experience as we did on Super Tuesday, that there was no way we would ever be as physically close as we were that night … I knew November 4th, 2008, had the chance to be a changing moment in history … and we had been given the opportunity to be present at such an historical moment … and I’m so happy we took it.

I don’t plan to forget the sound and feeling of the roar of the crowd … that one moment when what so many had worked for for so long became true … a moment when hope became real.

So many made “Yes, we can” “Yes, we did”.

Rahm Emanuel

I met Rahm Emanuel in 2003, shortly after he had been elected to Congress from the 5th Congressional District in Illinois, where I live. At the time I was manager of the Social Security Office in his district, and he invited me to a little "getting to know you" meeting which included Rahm, a constituent services staffer from his local office, and another SSA manager.

The 5th Congressional District is usually a safe district for whatever Democrat gets the nomination; the famous Chicago political machine takes over from there. It's not a totally safe district, though, because there's a certain torch-and-pitchfork element in the electorate that rises up from time-to-time, as they did in 1994, when Dan Rostenkowski, who represented the district, was indicted in connection with the House Post Office Scandal. In that year, Rostenkowski deservedly lost his seat to a twerp named Michael Flanagan, about whom the least said the better.

In 1996 Flanagan lost to Rod Blagojevich, the son-in-law of a local alderman, who in turn gave up the seat in 2002 to run for governor, the position he now holds. All of Illinois is waiting for the second shoe to fall in the Tony Rezko scandal, and that shoe will not be named Obama, it will be named Blagojevich.

So in 2002 Rahm Emanuel, a Clinton White House veteran who was fresh from collecting $18 million in three years as an investment banker, got the Democratic nomination for Blagojevich's House seat, and thus the seat.

Emanuel has a reputation, apparently earned, as someone who spends his day screaming and swearing at people. [Read his Wikipedia entry to get a flavor of it.] Management by intimidation is the best some people can come up with. And he made no secret of his wish to eventually become Speaker of the House.

Emanuel did not scream and swear at me. He was, in fact, extremely cordial. Although I had prepared to offer him the benefit of my deep thoughts on Social Security policy, the purpose of the meeting was just to establish connections with the local federal offices (of which we were the only one). He spent an hour with us, and promised to make the meetings regular. Of course, we never heard from him again; and although I would have enjoyed meeting with him again, I can't say I question his judgment in that.

So now Rahm Emanuel is going to serve as Obama's Chief of Staff. John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, does not think the appointment of such a highly partisan person bodes well for bi-partisan action.

But I think it might. Is there an unmentioned purpose in this appointment? Is it possible that Obama is purposely removing Emanuel from the House?

Anyway, now we'll have an open seat again in the 5th Congressional District. And guess whose name is the first to be mentioned for it? The daughter of the same alderman that plopped Blagojevich (his son-in-law, did I mention?) into the seat.

Ah, Chicago.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

Back on November 1, my friend Dave Lewis posted his election predictions in the comments section. He said:

I think Obama will win all the Kerry states plus Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. He has a good shot at North Carolina and Florida. Indiana, Missouri will be close but I expect McCain to win both. Georgia, North Dakota, Montana, West Virginia and Arizona are extremely unlikely unless Obama wins a huge landslide.

Last I heard, Missouri and North Carolina are yet to be called. So it looks like Dave got Indiana wrong. Pretty darn impressive.

I will not reveal my predictions. Suffice it to say that I thought McGovern was going to win, and my predictive powers have not improved since then.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Something To Look Forward To

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

The Obama Victory Party

Captain Cantankerous, says, in a comment to a post below:
i eagerly await your account of the historic night in grant park. i expect nothing less than a jean shepherd -style narrative complete with sharp well chosen details of things that seem superfluous but somehow stand as enduring metaphors for all that occurred and also the funny voices. but mostly, just pour it out all jumbled and feverish, talking with your mouth full.
Uh-oh. I'm in trouble now. I think I can do jumbled and feverish, though.

All day long they had been telling us no one would be admitted to the ticketed area before 8:30 p.m. So we decided we'd wait until 6:30 to head down there, to minimize the amount of time we'd be standing around. At 6:00, though, the news reported that the gates had been opened because the crowd was so large. We still headed out the door at about 6:30, but now we were a little more wired than we would have been.

For those knowledgeable about Chicago, we took the Blue Line down from our neighborhood Addison stop, and wound up at Grant Park by 7:30. We got into the first line, which was the width of Congress Avenue (a wide street) and fairly soon made our way though a check-point where they checked our ticket and photo IDs. Then we got right back into a wide line on the other side of the check-point. This line moved for a while, then stopped. Then moved again, around a corner onto Columbus Avenue, until we got to a second check-point, where they checked our ticket and photo IDs. This is about the point this picture was taken:

If you would like a better look at any picture, click on it, then click your back arrow to return here. If you do so on this picture, you should be able to see the Royal Chicago Mounted Police on the left.

As soon as we got through this check-point, the line moved pretty quickly for about half a block, then stopped again. It inched forward, up to a third check-point, where they checked everyone's ticket and photo ID. Finally through that, we scurried forward for another half-block, then slowed down as we were routed to the real security, the TSA.

They sent us through a metal detector (you can see them under the awning) and wanded me. Then we were free to make our way to the ticketed area.

This is what we saw. The arrow indicates where the stage was:

We actually made our way about one-third of the way towards the stage, but decided it was wise to stop there. There was no way we were going to get a clear view of the stage from anywhere, but having a clear view of the jumbo-tron screen was a challenge, too. We finally found a spot, and stuck to it.

One nice thing is that a French video-journalist interviewed me for a documentary she was working on. I was not impressive. She was very nice, though, and posed for a picture with Suellen:

Suellen is planning to do a post about her impressions of the evening, so I won't comment much, but will just share pictures. Here are some other sights from the evening:

The jumbo-tron was tuned to CNN, so we watched CNN call the election for Obama. People went nuts. Suellen will talk about that.

Obama giving his speech (on the jumbo-tron, of course).

What political party could survive without pretty girls?

Pretty girls, again, but with a patriot theme.


This was the ticketed area, where there were 70,000. The unticketed folks were about a quarter mile away. The local news said the total of ticketed and unticketed revelers was 250,000. I believe that.

Two more thoughts:

• This rally was held in the same place where the Chicago Convention mayhem occurred 40 years ago. I thought that was significant in some symbolic way.
• The uproar when CNN declared a winner was amazing. But for me the chill-down-the-spine moment occurred earlier, after Ohio and Virginia were declared for Obama. Somebody at CNN said they had emailed the McCain Campaign after that, asking whether the McCain strategists now saw any path to victory. Their answer: "No."

A Place Holder

We got home from the Obama celebration at 12:30 a.m. -- WAY past my bedtime. And this morning I've got to go work at the food pantry. It's the first distribution day of the month and it's going to be crowded, so as tempting as it is, I can't just skip it.

So I'll have to write about the celebration later, if I can keep my eyes open.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Inspiration

I stole this from Talking Points Memo:

Early Returns

I hopped on my bicycle this morning between 6:30 and 7:00 and rode around to three polling places in our neighborhood. There was no sign of lines anywhere, though all three sites did have voters in them.

This is St. Viator's School (bet you didn't know there was a St. Viator, did you?).

Another view of St. Viator, below. The cone you see on the right is one of two that mark a certain distance from the polling place, the area within which it is illegal to campaign. There were a couple of guys out there campaigning.

The fellow on the right ignored the cones, and came over to me while I was taking pictures to convince me to vote for a state constitutional convention. We had an unsatisfying conversation about that. The reason I should vote for it, he said, is because it is the only way to clean up that mess in Springfield. There's a hidden agenda in this constitutional convention campaign, but I haven't discovered what it is, yet. We'll find out soon enough if it passes.

And below is where Suellen and I will vote later today. It's a one-man shop, where an older gentleman creates mannequins. He opens it up to the neighborhood as a polling place every election day. Right inside the front door there's a mannequin butler, dressed in a tuxedo, that always spooks me when I catch sight of it out of the corner of my eye.

Update: We voted at 1 p.m. There were no lines, but the election officials told us that of the 350 registered voters in our precinct, 250 had voted so far. Not bad for 1 p.m.

Later Update: I talked to my next door neighbor earlier, and he said they had voted a few days ago, and waited 3 hours in line to do so. He was chagrined to hear he could have just waited. What was your voting experience?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Voice of Reason

I was surprised to learn that Obama has hired my mother as a consultant.

In an interview with MTV, Obama was asked his opinion of local laws which prohibit young people from wearing their pants around their thighs, as is fashionable in some places among a certain age group. This is his response:

Here is my attitude. I think people passing a law against people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time. We should be focused on creating jobs, improving our schools, health care, dealing with the war in Iraq, and anybody, any public official, that is worrying about sagging pants probably needs to spend some time focusing on real problems out there.

Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What's wrong with that? Come on. There are some issues that we face, that you don't have to pass a law, but that doesn't mean folks can't have some sense and some respect for other people and, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear -- I'm one of them.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

Okay, it's official: Suellen got her notification this afternoon that she got two tickets to the ticketed area of the Obama Celebration in Chicago's Grant Park on Tuesday night -- the one you'll see on TV. They will email her the actual tickets tomorrow between 6 and 7 p.m. They are non-transferable, but only one of them has a name on it (hers) -- the second is for a guest (me). You have to present the ticket with a picture ID to get in.

They're expecting a mere 65,000 people in the ticketed area, but there will likely be thousands and thousands more (I've heard up to 1 million, but don't believe it) outside the ticketed area. The likelihood of getting anywhere near as close as we did at the Super Tuesday celebration is non-existent. The likelihood of getting home before 4 a.m. is non-existent.

Hard as this may be to believe, the prospect does not thrill me. Like a professional football game, I think this will be more enjoyable watched on TV at home, with reasonably clean toilets nearby.

But this is a historical event! These tickets are very hot items! People are advertising for them on Craig's List:

1. I can be your date to the Obama rally - $1 (Chicago)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-10-29, 6:38PM CDT

I would love to go to the Obama rally!! Have an extra ticket or just need someone to go with you? I would love to go! let me know….maybe it could turn into more than one night with me you and Obama. haha. who knows right??

2. Victoria Secret Gift Card for Obama guest ticket - $75 (Chicago)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-10-30, 6:02PM CDT

If anyone wants a victoria secret gift card for their Guest Ticket, PLEASE CONTACT ME!!!!


3. Smart, Beautiful, Funny Girl Needs Obama Ticket - $1 (Chicago)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-10-30, 10:20PM CDT

Looking for a fellow Obama supporter who has a ticket to the rally Tuesday. I want to go, hang out, have a drink and have fun.

This pic is current.

4. Blackhawk Ticket for Obama Grat Park Rally Guest Pass - $1 (Chicago, IL)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-10-30, 8:16PM CDT

Will exchange 1 Blackhawk Ticket, 12 rows off ice, for 1 guest pass to Obama Rally. If you have two guest passes, I will give you a pair of Blackhawks tickets.

5. Looking For Frumpy, Nerdy Girl to go to Obama - $1 (Chicagoland)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-10-30, 6:11PM CDT

I’m looking for a frumpy and/or nerdy girl to go as my +1 to the Obama event. Short girls preferred. Must not be evil. Do you fit these requirements?

I am average, at best.
Looks like I'm going to the Obama Celebration.

The Bush Administration -- The Gift that Keeps Giving

The music background in this is great.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


On Friday, Obama said in Iowa that "On the day of the Iowa caucus, my faith in the American people was vindicated."

To which McCain smugly answered, “[Obama] said the other day that his primary victory vindicated his faith in America. My country has never had to prove anything to me, my friends."

I guess that would be because John McCain has never been a black man running for President of the United States.

Musical Interlude -- Babylon Sister

My Predictions

I was going to give my predictions for electoral votes, Senate seats, and House seats.

But then Suellen threatened me, so I'd better not. More here.