Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hiatus Interruptus

I interrupt this hiatus to bring you this picture, from Time Magazine:

For non-family members, that's Laura (wife of my brother, Chip) and someone else whose name escapes me. Cool that Laura got her picture in Time, no?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I need to take a break, so won't be posting for a while. Thanks for your kindness in dropping by these past months.

Blago's Final Hours

I have to admit to readers who don't live in Chicago -- yes, this place is full of little Rod Blagojeviches. To Chicago politicians, it's all about them; what's best for the city or state is a secondary consideration. There are exceptions, but that's the norm. Thus, we read this in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Until recent days, Blagojevich blocked his staff from offering [Lt. Gov.] Quinn [who will become governor when Blago is disposed of] any help on a transition by not providing him with budget figures or any other information, Quinn said.

"I think Gov. Blagojevich put a straitjacket on everyone under his command not to be cooperative or helpful, but when his own staff saw he took off for New York and went on TV predicting his own demise ... they've become much more helpful," Quinn said.

In good times, that "it's all about them" attitude can actually work to our advantage. Like they say, Chicago is the city that works. If you've got a complaint about a pothole or an abandoned car, you call your alderman and it's taken care of. Constituent services is how they get themselves reelected. But sometimes it just turns your stomach.

Anyway, this little episode is almost over:

The Bible is ready. The oath has been prepared. The lieutenant governor and his family are on their way to Springfield. And the current governor's belongings are boxed up and waiting to be picked up at the Executive Mansion.

Not that Blago has much besides a Gideon Bible to pick up at the Executive Mansion. He refused to move to Springfield when he was elected. Better to charge the taxpayers for roundtrip flights from Chicago. Because it's all about him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Via Andrew Tobias, take a look at this photo. Find the dot that is Barack Obama. Then use the slider on the left to zoom in. The resolution is amazing.

Notice that Clarence Thomas is sleeping (nothing new). Find Al Gore. Who else do you recognize?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Debt We All Owe Chief Justice Roberts

It occurred to me this morning, when I lovingly and, I thought, helpfully pointed out to Suellen that she had added an unnecessary "the" to a passage she had prepared to be read aloud from the church lectern this morning. Instead of saying "A reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians" the passage read "A reading from the Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians."

A small matter, no? Certainly not something to shoot the messenger about, wouldn't you say? Well, let's just say Suellen - the very embodiment of sweetness and charm - is not a morning person.

And that's when I had my epiphany. That's when I realized we are all released from ever again beating ourselves up about mistakes we have made while trying to do right. Why that typo in your book, lovingly and responsibly slaved over for more than a year, is not worthy of a thought. Why that memo you wrote, in which you extolled the importance of public service, but instead you wrote "pubic service" -- to your subordinates' endless delight -- is something you, too, can finally laugh about after all these years.

And the reason we are all released from these burdens is because the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a man who is supposed to be, by temperament and training, super careful about every word he says and writes, while performing one of the most important functions -- and one of the simplest functions -- he will perform in his entire lifetime, in front of an audience of hundreds of millions, nay, billions! -- the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court blew it!

Whatever it was you did, it just couldn't have been as publicly stupid as that. Yet he still managed to get out of bed the next morning.

Roberts got a do-over, and so do you. Now go enjoy your day.

The Inaugural Address

I knew if I procrastinated long enough, somebody else would write about the Inaugural Address for me. Frank Rich did it this morning.

I swear, the image of Dick Cheney as Mr. Potter was going to be part of my post all along. Rich did add one or two ideas of his own, though.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The Chicago Police arrested the highest priced hooker anyone can remember. And she's a Republican. The story here.

The World According to Faux

If you didn't catch this at TalkingPointsMemo, you're in for a treat. Faux News is in rare form.

President Obama is trying to save the jobs of millions of Americans. Rush Limbaugh hopes he fails. Why? Because if Obama is successful, it would mean Limbaugh's ideology is wrong. And he would rather America has a disaster than that his ideology be wrong. Yet millions of people still listen to this blowhard.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wistful Entertainment

Still thinking about the inaugural address. If you've got a few minutes, take a look at this little video.

I must say, when he finally figured out where the picture was taken from, I thought, "Well, duh!" But I hadn't thought of it until then.

You may now say, "Well, duh!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sweet, Blissful Innocence

While I'm sorting out my thoughts about Obama's Inaugural Address, I hope you'll pop over to Obsidian Wings to read this short essay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mission Accomplished

I don't have much to say about the inauguration. There have already been some snafus, but few people are dwelling on them. Except me. Suellen got the above invitation, but I got none. I guess that's something I'll have to take up with Barack.

The Inauguration Committee apparently sold exclusive rights to broadcasting Sunday's concert on The Mall to HBO. And HBO promptly censored the invocation by Bishop Gene Robinson (usually written as "gay Bishop Gene Robinson"). Two very bad ideas. How you can legally sell exclusive rights to something on The Mall is a mystery to me, and I hope some kind of legislative action is taken to keep that from ever happening again. Maybe after the economic crisis is solved and peace is brought to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. Then I hope they will get right on that.

History flows. Some say it's cyclical, seeing swings from conservative to liberal, and back to conservative again. Some say it's progressive, as ideas like democracy and human rights take hold, and standards of living rise; there are backwards steps, but the trend is toward the better. Some see history being created by unique men and women: the Thomas Jeffersons and Harriet Tubmans of the world. And some see history as the story of mass movements, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, labor unions, and Nazism; in this view the role of individuals is less important.

I don't know, though I do think about it sometimes. Maybe "All of the above." Probably "None of the above." History flows. Or maybe it doesn't.

I was in the ninth grade when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Now, 45 years later, there are still parts of that day I can recall clearly. They said it was the end of Camelot, and it certainly was. Within 5 years Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were dead, too. I walked with thousands of people in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in memory of King. On the night of the California primary I decided it was time to switch my allegiance from Eugene McCarthy to Robert Kennedy. I woke up the next morning to hear that another Kennedy had been murdered.

And America entered its Dark Ages. The war babies, the "love generation," who were supposed to be committed to ideas like justice and equality, turned out to be committed only to themselves. People promising "Morning in America," feeding on our divisions, turned us against one another; and while enjoying that show, they helped themselves.

We sure are ready for Barack Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tragedy in Gaza

I can't embed this video, so you'll need to go to the NY Times site.

Meanwhile, Israel is trying to get out of Gaza before Obama is sworn in.

If they have really managed, as they said they intended, to destroy Hamas, there might be some moral equation that says this was worth it. But my guess is they improved Hamas recruitment.

Lincoln on Obama

I've done enough reading about Abraham Lincoln to think Louis Gates and John Stauffer have it right in their op-ed piece in today's NY Times. Snippets:

It is difficult to say for sure, of course, but one thing we can be fairly certain about is that Lincoln would have been, um, surprised [by Obama's election]. Lincoln was thoroughly a man of his times, and while he staunchly opposed slavery — on moral grounds and because it made competition in the marketplace unfair for poor white men — for most of his life he harbored fixed and unfortunate ideas about race.

And they conclude:

Once Lincoln had recovered from his shock that a descendant of “amalgamation” (about which he once expressed reservations) had ascended to the presidency, one suspects their mutual embrace of economic independence and natural rights, their love and mastery of the English language, their shared desire to leave their mark on history, and their astonishing gift for pragmatic improvisation, would have drawn him to a man so fundamentally similar to himself.

And they both understood that the perfect is an enemy of the good. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

And Dangerous

Not only are they jerks; they are evil.

The Bush administration has issued a bevy of last-minute rules governing everything from commercial trucking to factory farming.

One rule makes it easier for companies to dump coal-mining waste into local waterways. Another allows factory farms to exceed air pollution limits.
I guess they're setting up their post-Administration employment.

Small, Small, Small

That's the only way to describe the outgoing administration. Just in case you were feeling sorry for the jerks, there's this:

Less than a week before it leaves office, the Bush administration has sparked anger across the Atlantic by tripling the import duty rate on roquefort cheese to 300%, a move which the US hopes will "shut down trade" in the sheep's milk product by making it prohibitively expensive.

The decision, part of Washington's attempts to force the EU into dropping its ban on hormone-treated beef, was greeted with disbelief by the French government and by farmers in the south-western Aveyron region who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

"Maybe the Bush administration indulged itself by taking this decision just before it leaves," Robert Glandieres, president of the roquefort producers' group, told Reuters.

The tariff on roquefort, condemned as "incomprehensible and inadmissible" by the French government, will probably have a minimal effect, given exports to the US account for just 2% of annual sales. French farmers said it would mean "the end" for roquefort in the US and vowed to take "symbolic actions" in return.
Do the Bushies seriously believe that blocking a niche market (though a delicious one!) will convince the Europeans to eat our adulterated beef? The only word for it is delusional.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not a Bad Start

A Gallup poll out today suggests Barack Obama is impressing folks who didn't vote for him.

PRINCETON, NJ -- President-elect Barack Obama receives a remarkably high 83% approval rating for the way in which he has handled the presidential transition, significantly higher than the approval level for either of his immediate predecessors just before they first took office.

Of course, 83% will never hold up. Even I will be angry with him some day. Maybe some day soon.

Kander's Obama's People

The NY Times commissioned photographer Nadav Kander to take photographs of members of the incoming Obama administration. The 52-photo portfolio will run in the Sunday Times Magazine, but it's online now.


• There're all the same picture, just with different people in it.

• If you're going to have Kander take your picture, wear dark pants or get your suit pressed. If you're a woman, don't let Kander take your picture.

Update: The NY Times has been whining that Obama has not given them a special sit-down interview, as has been "traditional" with incoming Presidents. Looking at these pictures, I think we now know why.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minneapolis Star Tribune Files Bankruptcy Petition

Can we really be living in the last days of newspapers? Is the internet really going to do it for us?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition Thursday night.

The filing had been anticipated for several months. It follows missed payments to the paper’s lenders, and comes less than two years after a private equity group, Avista Capital Partners, purchased the paper for $530 million.

In its filing, the newspaper listed assets of $493.2 million and liabilities of $661.1 million. The company said it hopes to use bankruptcy to restructure its debt and lower its labor costs.

Like most newspapers, the Star Tribune has experienced a sharp decline in print advertising. Its earnings before interest, taxes and debt payments was about $26 million in 2008, down from about $59 million in 2007 and about $115 million in 2004.

1. Wow. That's some drop.

2. Earnings was?

How sad. I sure hope they pull out of this. They and all the other newspapers that are struggling so hard to survive.

Official Portrait

The web site of "The Office of the President-Elect" has released the first official Obama Presidential Portrait. And, as the web site says,

It was taken by Pete Souza, the newly-announced official White House photographer.

It is the first time that an official presidential portrait was taken with a digital camera. [My emphasis]

And what a digital camera it is, too. If you have a digital camera, you should know that (unless it is an incredibly cheap camera), it records not only the photo, but the type of camera that took the photo, along with the date, time, aperture, shutter speed, whether you used a flash, and gobs of other info. Some cameras even record your GPS coordinates. All this information is recorded in the file with the photo.

That's how I know this camera was taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Which just happens to be the camera I've been lusting after ever since it was released. Could this be a sign? [Say "yes!"] Bad news, though: they're not cheap. I guess that's understating it, isn't it? They're expensive.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Life

Do you sometimes think you've wasted your life?

It's the birthday of the author of 52 books and nearly 200 articles and short stories, Emily Hahn, born in St Louis, Missouri (1905).

She went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and she was the first woman in the university's history to graduate with a degree in Mining Engineering. Many of her peers and instructors disapproved and insisted that she would not be able to get a job. After college, she and another adventurous young woman disguised themselves as men and set out on a cross-country road trip, driving more than 2,400 miles.

She wrote: "Then followed several years of drifting, or as near drifting as a middle-class well-brought-up woman can achieve. … I needed money, and began to write in order to earn some." She taught geology at Hunter College in New York, and then she took off for Europe.

While she was in England, her first book was published in the United States: Seductio ad Absurdum: The Principles and Practices of Seduction — A Beginner's Handbook (1930). She traveled around Europe, then joined a Red Cross mission to the Belgian Congo. She spent nine months there with the mission, and then stayed in Africa another year, living with a pygmy tribe and traveling around central Africa on foot. Her experiences in Africa formed the basis for several of her books, fiction and nonfiction, including a travel memoir, Congo Solo: Misadventures Two Degrees North (1933), a novel, With Naked Foot (1934), and Africa to Me (1964), a collection of articles she wrote for The New Yorker on the subject of emerging African nationalism.

She worked for a while in England at the British Museum Reading Room, and then moved to China, where she wrote for The New Yorker. She moved into an apartment in the red-light district of Shanghai, and she had a pet gibbon, which she brought to dinner parties. In Shanghai, she became romantically involved with prominent men in the city, including the poet and publisher Sinmay Zau. He taught her to smoke opium, and she became an addict.

She moved to Hong Kong, and became lovers with a British spy, Major Boxer. They had a daughter together a few weeks before Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese. She recounted these experiences in her memoir China to Me (1944), which was a great literary success.

She and Boxer got married and moved to his estate in England, where they had another child. Hahn lived a domestic life in rural England for several years, but then escaped to New York, where she bought an apartment and wrote memoirs, articles, fiction, and nonfiction. She continued to go into her office at The New Yorker until a few months before she died at the age of 92.

Emily Hahn said, "Nobody said not to go."

This biography is from today's page in The Writer's Almanac.

Musical Interlude -- Arthur Lee

It has been a while since I've inflicted my musical tastes on you.

This is a video of the late, great Arthur Lee at the Glastonbury Festival in Glastonbury, England. Glastonbury is probably the most mystical place in England. It is where King Arthur is supposed to be buried, among other things. There's a beautiful, ruined cathedral there. Suellen and I were lucky and visited it when there weren't big crowds.

Arthur Lee was a great, fairly unsung rock musician. His 1967 album, Forever Changes, was ranked 40th by Rolling Stone magazine in it's Top 500 Albums of all Time. Not that that means anything, but you'd think you'd have at least heard of him, wouldn't you?

This piece doesn't really start rolling until 2-1/2 minutes into the song, so please hold on for the strings and brass. And toward the end, see if it reminds you of the bands Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Chicago. Both of which were formed in (ahem) 1967.

In the Bleak Midwinter

Snow on snow.

It's not as cold as Readlyn, yet, but we're sure getting our share of snow in Chicago. And they say we'll have 58 hours of below zero, starting tonight. Below zero is when I cry if I have to start the car, because I'm sure I can hear the pistons scraping against the rings.

Shoveled this morning before heading for food pantry, and again this afternoon when I got home from my haircut.

Got this picture of Chicago winter life for you while I was out:

And while I was shoveling, I noticed a cardinal couple in a bush. I still had a camera in my pocket, so I tried to get closer. It was surprising how close they allowed me to get. But they wouldn't pose for a clear picture. If I went to the far side of the bush, they'd move back to the side I had been on. But they just sat in that bush. Cardinals are usually much too skittish to allow something like this.

It was when I took my glove off to take the picture, though, that I realized the temperature is falling -- 10 degrees and falling fast. Back to shoveling, then inside to warm up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inaugural Trivia

Here are a few fun facts, most of which I got here. Okay, maybe you have a different idea of "fun" than I do.

a. Who was the first President to be sworn in wearing long pants?

b. Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by the Chief Justice. Nothing unusual there. But the Chief Justice was a former President. Who was the swearing-iner?

c. The President who gave the longest inaugural address died a month later from pneumonia, said to be caught during his speech. Who was that?

d. Some people say David Rice Atchison should be included in the list of Presidents. Why?

e. Who was the only President not sworn in with his hand on a Bible?


a. John Q. Adams (1825).

b. William Howard Taft.

c. William Henry Harrison.

d. Until it was changed during FDR's presidency, a President's term of office ended on March 4. In 1849, March 4 fell on a Sunday, and the incoming President, Zachary Taylor, refused to take the oath of office on the Sabbath -- even privately. He was sworn in the next day. Since Polk's term ended on the 4th, the argument goes, the president pro tempore of the Senate became President under the rules of succession as they were then. Of course, it's not that simple. Atchison is said to have slept through his entire term of office.

e. Teddy Roosevelt. When he was reelected, he had the Bible open to James 1:22-23. Actually, neither Franklin Pierce nor Herbert Hoover were "sworn" in; they "affirmed".

And yes, you're right. Things are a little slow around the house today.

Six Days Left

There are six days until we get a new President (unless you count Inauguration Day, in which case there are seven). It can't come soon enough, so let's call it six, like the countdown clock above.

Different people had different reactions to Bush's "farewell" press conference yesterday. Some felt sorry for him, like some tragic figure. To me it was just more of the same.

I know we've come to expect him and his administration to be dysfunctional, but this just left me slack-jawed:

WASHINGTON — In an unusually public rebuke, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a United Nations resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after Mr. Olmert placed a phone call to President Bush.

“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’ ” Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now,’ ” Mr. Olmert continued. “He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

Israel opposed the resolution, which called for a halt to the fighting in Gaza, because the government said it did not provide for Israel’s security. It passed 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining.

Mr. Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr. Bush, the president called Ms. Rice and told her to abstain. “She was left pretty embarrassed,” Mr. Olmert said, according to The A.P.

The State Department disputed Mr. Olmert’s account. “Her recommendation was to abstain; that was her recommendation all along,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the matter.

After the vote, Ms. Rice said the United States “fully supports” the resolution, which called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza,” but opted to abstain to see the outcome of an Egyptian-French peace initiative.

Ms. Rice did not respond to Mr. Olmert’s remarks, which were unusual even in the context of the secretary’s occasionally bumpy relationship with the prime minister, according to the official.

Privately, Mr. Olmert has said Ms. Rice sometimes had to be reined in for getting ahead of the president on policy. “They have a good relationship, but there have been some ups and downs,” the State Department official said.

Leave aside the question of whether Rice's resolution was the right thing to do at this time. The fact that Olmert is bragging about this in public shows an incredible lack of respect not only for Rice, but for Bush and, by extension, the American people who have supported his country. He has done Israel no favor.

Update: Another version of the story is here.

Six more days.

Update: My one and only Facebook friend, Steve Clemons (who has met Condi), feels even stronger about it. This was a monumental blunder on Olmert's part.

Update: Meanwhile, in Chicago, idiots take to vandalism. I loved the response of the rabbi of Young Israel Congregation in West Rogers Park:

Rabbi Elisha Prero said synagogue officials believe the "Jewish response" to the defacement of their building was to make something positive of it. They would use the bricks thrown into the window in the cornerstone of the synagogue's library.


Update: From Juan Cole:

Why did Olmert spill the beans on his backroom maneuvering against Rice? It is a very damaging thing that he said. As Daniel Levy, who had been a Labor Party adviser on peace negotiations, told The Los Angeles Times's Paul Richter:

' This is terrible for the United States . . . This confirms every assumption they have in the Arab world about the tail wagging the dog. . . . It's a story you're likely to hear quoted there for years to come." Levy also accused Olmert of "unparalleled arrogance.". . ."There are some things you don't say, even in Ashkelon, even in Hebrew . . . "

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Saddest Headline

As a person who's interested in things like politics, history, and religion, my online reading habits include a reasonably wide range of sites, including, which is a product of the American Family News Network. It's a place where you can get a feel for which paranoid delusions are popular with the fundamentalist right-wing today. For example, they've been reporting the "Obama is not a U.S. citizen" hilarity like it was serious business.

Just scanning the stories this morning, I see they're worried that Obama will decriminalize marijuana, supporters of creationism in Texas are framing their beliefs as "academic freedom," and "Episcopal Church wins property, loses hearts of congregants." This is pretty standard fare, though most of the stories seem to be about abortion.

But the saddest headline I've ever seen there is this one:

A Good Move

After inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural, Obama tries to expand the middle of American politics in the other direction, too. Politico reports:

BREAKING: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003 and last year entered into a civil union with his gay partner, will deliver the invocation for Sunday’s kickoff inaugural event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with President-elect Obama in attendance. The event is free and open to the public. An Obama source: “Robinson was in the plans before the complaints about Rick Warren. Many skeptics will read this as a direct reaction to the Warren criticism – but it’s just not so.” Robinson has been referred to as “the most controversial Christian in the world.”

Good for Obama.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chicago Snow

I'm not sure how much snow we've gotten since last night, but I'm sure it's enough. I've shoveled the walk at least three times, and my neighbors have been by with snow blowers at least as many times.

For some reason we're all taking care of each other this winter. If my neighbors have to go to work, I shovel their walk. If they think I'm not at home (because I'm hiding behind drawn blinds, hoping they'll think I'm out), they shovel mine. For most snows the hassle is getting out there, then getting back in, and out of snowy clothes. As long as you're out there, it doesn't take long to also shovel your neighbor's walk. Of course, as I get older this poem starts speaking to me:

"Snow" by George Bilgere

A heavy snow, and men my age
all over the city
are having heart attacks in their driveways,

dropping their nice new shovels
with the ergonomic handles
that finally did them no good.

Gray-headed men who meant no harm,
who abided by the rules and worked hard
for modest rewards, are slipping

softly from their mortgages,
falling out of their marriages.
How gracefully they swoon--

that lovely, old-fashioned word--
from dinner parties, grandkids,
vacations in Florida.

They should have known better
than to shovel snow at their age.
If only they'd heeded

the sensible advice of their wives
and hired a snow-removal service.
But there's more to life

than merely being sensible. Sometimes
a man must take up his shovel
and head out alone into the snow.

Suellen had a meeting to go to. I took one look at the depth of snow in the alley (the garage opens to the alley), then a look at my ergonomic shovel. I decided she should take the bus. And since getting out of the house is a good thing for all of us, I went along with her and delivered her to the door of her meeting. I took some pictures on my way home.

Getting on a bus on the Inner Drive.

This is looking east across Lake Shore Drive. Those trees are Lincoln Park, and beyond them is Lake Michigan.

Then I got on the bus to head home.

Passed a landmark on the way.

My morning was exactly that exciting.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Epiphany Pageant

Okay, I promise this is the last church-related post for a while, but the annual Epiphany Pageant is the real highlight of the year, and I wanted to give you a taste for why. Epiphany is the holiday (January 6) that celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings, or Magi, in Bethlehem.

Our ridiculous little church has about 140 members, of whom it seems about 190 are children. That makes things very lively, and you have to constantly watch where you're stepping. Each year the kids put on an Epiphany Pageant, and each year it's different. We are lucky to have a vast number (relatively speaking) of very talented people in the congregation: artists, playwrights, mechanics, it's amazing. And the adults chip in to make costumes, take out the "quire" pews to give the kids room for a stage, build sets, assist with direction, feed everybody during rehearsals, and keep the littlest ones from wandering off.

The actual Epiphany Pageant is tonight, but we have an important gathering with friends tonight so we went to the dress rehearsal last night, which might have been even better! Below are some pictures to give you the flavor.

The youngest children are assigned to be "angels," which is not always type-casting. They have a few lines but they say them in unison, so there's usually at least one that's paying enough attention to get the line out on cue. The adult here is Jason. He is a professional actor and has a lot of lines, but the most difficult thing he does is herding these cats.

I took about 10 shots of the angels, and each one is charming and hilarious in its own way.

This is the Annunciation scene. Notice that Jason has a wire going down the back of his neck to a battery pack. His "halo" had little lights in it. You can't say we don't have a sense of humor. Mary is showing an appropriate level of apprehension, I think.

There's no room at the inn.

Shepherds watching their flocks by night (sort of):

Joseph and Mary, with a doll. One year we used a real baby. The baby survived, but I'm not sure the mother did. And yes, Joseph wore glasses and a wristwatch. You don't know your Bible, do you?

The Magi arrive. And yes, Joseph and Mary had a Christmas tree.

The cast, mostly. I think some of the angels have wandered off.

The audience was totally charmed. Suellen looks positively enraptured.

Note to Chip: The white light pictures were shot with two strobe heads through white umbrellas. Notice how quickly the light falls off. That place eats light. The yellow light pictures were shot with available light with a 50 mm. 1.8 lens. We had posing before the rehearsal (strobes), and then I shot what I could with the 1.8. Still got a lot of blurred pictures, sad to say.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Food Pantry

Here's the line outside the food pantry yesterday, at about 9 a.m.

We were open for the first time in three weeks, so were expecting a good crowd, and we got one.

It's easy to tell the people who are there for the first time: they are so grateful. One guy was almost in tears and insisted on shaking my hand. That's actually an improvement on the old lady who kisses my hand every month. Then there are other people.

We get lots of donations of food from people who are making space in their cupboards for things they'll actually eat. These go into an odds-and-ends bin, and we used to let people take one item out of the bin, in addition to the bags of groceries we hand out.

A couple of months ago we passed out green recyclable shopping bags to everybody, and somebody thought it might be a good rule to only let people who bring those bags back take something out of the bin. It's turned out to be not such a good idea, but it's the rule right now.

Yesterday I had to deal with some guy who was incensed about the rule. Ignore the fact that I just handed him five bags of free groceries; we were all idiots for keeping him from picking out a 7-year-old can of mushrooms.

As Linus would say (or was it Charlie Brown?): I love mankind; it's people I can't stand.

By the way, isn't that a great house in the background?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Morning Paper

Tom Friedberg, who understands the Middle East better than most, gives us the big picture of what's going on there. Read more than a few paragraphs into this Washington Post story for some historical background on how Hamas got where it is.

British atheists are advertising on buses.

And reading about what people do in the name of God might convince you they're right.

Lefties are getting all excited about the announced candidacy of Tom Geoghegan (pronounced Gay-gan) for Rahm Emanuel's Congressional seat (which just happens to be the district I live in). He sounds like a better choice than any of our aldermen, or aldermen's daughters, or aldermen's sons-in-law. As far as I know, he's the first to announce. [Update: Boy, was I wrong about that! Every sleazy Chicago pol who drives through the district is trying to get the job.]

The real case against Roland Burris is now being told. The press is beginning to pick up on it, just as the D.C. Village is finding it socially acceptable to seat him.

And last but not least, here's an excellent reason to support Leon Panetta's appointment to head the CIA. Last year he wrote a piece in the Washington Monthly that concluded:

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

Would that we were.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sanjay Gupta

Paul Krugman (yes, again!) is what the Brits would call "spot on" with this:

So apparently Obama plans to appoint CNN’s Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General. I don’t have a problem with Gupta’s qualifications. But I do remember his mugging of Michael Moore over Sicko. You don’t have to like Moore or his film; but Gupta specifically claimed that Moore “fudged his facts”, when the truth was that on every one of the allegedly fudged facts, Moore was actually right and CNN was wrong.

What bothered me about the incident was that it was what Digby would call Village behavior: Moore is an outsider, he’s uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It’s sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less “serious” than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion. And appointing Gupta now, although it’s a small thing, is just another example of the lack of accountability that always seems to be the rule when you get things wrong in a socially acceptable way.

Shock and Awe

One problem with overwhelming military force is that you own whatever happens. I wish we'd learn that lesson some day.

Why They Lost

Perhaps you heard the NPR report this morning about a meeting that included candidates for chair of the Republican National Committee.

Let's see, we have a recession that's seriously threatening to become a depression, we're engaged in two wars, and America hasn't been held in lower regard around the world in 200 years. What are the kinds of questions you'd expect to hear of these candidates?

How about: "How many guns do you own?"

I hope we got these clowns out of office in time. Their lack of seriousness about serious things has gotten us into a real hole. Let's just let them go down the drain by themselves.

Note: In fairness, the picture I have chosen to illustrate this post is not really of members of the RNC. These are good people who dress up as clowns for our amusement.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Medieval Help Desk

From the music director at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, via our friend Kris. You'll need good eyes to read the subtitles, I'm afraid. I guess everybody in Norway is 20 years old.

The D Word

Paul Krugman, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Economics, is worried:

The fact is that recent economic numbers have been terrifying, not just in the United States but around the world. Manufacturing, in particular, is plunging everywhere. Banks aren’t lending; businesses and consumers aren’t spending. Let’s not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression.

The rest of his column is here, and is well worth the short time it will take to read.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

An Indulgence

One reader often responds to my most perfectly formed political arguments with a request for more pictures of Waveland, the cat. So here's Waveland demonstrating his hunting prowess and inherited sense of balance.

The Obama Vege-matic

If you made an online donation to Obama's campaign, you (as have we) have received daily offers from the campaign -- yes, even now -- for sweatshirts, mugs, and other paraphernalia. So I loved this question in Gail Collins' year-end quiz this morning:

8. Which of the following has Obama for America NOT urged the president-elect’s supporters to do over the last month:

A) “Order your limited edition Obama coffee mug” in time for Christmas.

B) “Make a donation of $25 and get an official Obama winter hat.”

C) “Treat yourself or a loved one to a limited edition four-year calendar.”

D) “Call now for this special Change is Coming Vegetable Peeler and get a Yes We Can Garlic Press at no additional charge.”

That's a tough one.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Can They Do That?

Senate Democrats have asserted they will refuse to seat Roland Burris, the former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General appointed by Governor Blagojevich to fill Obama's seat. But by what authority can the Senate refuse to seat a man who has been legally appointed (or, for that matter, elected) to the position?

The answer is found in Article I Section 5 of the Constitution, which says, in part:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members...

But has the Senate ever before used this power to prevent someone from being seated?

Yes. In fact, it has done it four times since the 17th Amendment provided for the direct election of Senators. The Congressional Quarterly has a good rundown here.

And if you've got a little time, read about Theodore G. Bilbo here -- especially his governorship.


Perhaps you've seen this story about a Muslim family that was thrown off a AirTran flight for having a conversation about what's the safest part of an airplane to sit in.

The airline says that's an "inappropriate conversation" on an airplane, which is funny, because I've heard just that conversation many times over the years. I'd say their lawyers are going to try out the "inappropriate conversation" argument if this goes to court. That's the best they can do, and they're sticking to it.

Of course, we all know the complete thought is that it's an inappropriate conversation to have while being a Muslim on an airplane. And that may be the case, but good luck using that argument in court.

The family sounded philosophical about the whole thing. One said, "Nothing came out of it. It was paranoid people. It was very sad."

That about sums it up.

Back during the anthrax scare in 2001 I learned an important lesson: We are at the mercy of the most hysterical people among us. I haven't seen any evidence to contradict that since then.

Movie Recommendation

If you've got a Netflix account, or a Blockbuster near you, try The Visitor. We really enjoyed it.

Now you recommend one.

This Is Actually a Secret Government Blog

Why else would it be of such interest to certain people?

I wrote earlier about how, just hours after posting a comment about a Vietnamese, this blog got it's first visitor from Vietnam. As an experiment, I mentioned Tienanmen Square and wondered what would happen.

It took a day and a half, but what happened is I got my first visitor from China. So welcome, friend.

The Chinese people, like us, have been struggling to create a government that is working for the public weal. And, like us, they're having their ups and downs. I wish them well.

The NY Times has a little story about one of their recent downs here. It's almost like we've exported the Republican Party to China: capitalism unfettered by good government, morality, or intelligence. That's a vast improvement over the Red Guard, certainly, but we all need to set our sights higher than that.

Here's a gift for my Chinese reader:

And here's a time-saving tip for my Chinese reader:

If you have Arlo Guthrie's "Arlo" album, on the reverse side you'll find a piece called "The Pause of Mr. Claus." Listen to it, and then you'll understand what I mean when I say that, for your purposes, I am the "last guy." But I would say that if I were actually encoding secrets on my blog, too, wouldn't I? Whatever you do, don't play "The Pause of Mr. Claus" backwards.

Please say "hi" the next time you drop in.

Postscript: There's something wonderfully ironic about "Fanfare for the Common Man" being played to such a well-dressed, well-tended audience in such an elaborate venue, isn't there?

Where American Politics is At Today ...

...and how we got here. Krugman's column lays it out.

The Republicans have to make a decision. And if, as Krugman says, the "Barack the Magic Negro" crowd is still running things, look for the GOP to continue to decline in numbers, while becoming more and more overtly racist.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Holiday Cheer

My sister, Kay, sent this round-up of 2008:

Happy New Year!

The NY Times has a diverting quiz on the events of 2008. The first section, matching the utterance to the utterer, should just take a minute or two. The second section, which you have to download as a .pdf file, will take longer.

Here's hoping 2009 brings you health, wealth, and happiness.