Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sotomayor: The Smear is Underway

It's amazing how clearly some people see racism when they perceive it is directed at them, and how blind they are to it when it is directed at others.

Over at the Willie Horton Party, their resident experts on racism – Newt Gingrich, Tom Tancredo, Rush Limbaugh, and Faux News – have worked up a real race-baiting froth over a comment Sotomayor made 8 years ago:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

President Obama has said he thinks she would rephrase that, but here are the words she spoke immediately before and after that sentence:
Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
Do you think maybe that first sentence has taken out of context? She is saying we are the product of our experience. Well, duh!

Charles Blow's column today gives some background on real racism – some of it sitting on the Supreme Court right now. It's well worth the read, and much better than this post.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pakistan Tries Something New in War on Al Qaeda

My mother likes to turn on Closed Captioning when she watches something on the television.

She's a little hard of hearing, but I suspect the real reason she does it is for the unintended comedy provided by the person doing the transcription. She passes on the best examples.

The latest: Did you know that Pakistan plans "a tax on Al Qaeda"? Now there's something nobody's ever thought of doing before! Maybe it'll work, who knows?

Sotomayor: The First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice?

There's been a little chatter here and there on the Web about whether Sonia Sotomayor will really be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

What about Benjamin Cardozo, who served from 1932 until his death in 1938?

It turns out that Cardozo was of Portuguese descent, we're told, and Portuguese are not Hispanic (I knew that), they are Lusitanians (I did not know that!). So that settles the question, right?

Well, maybe. But let me add my little contribution to this issue, about which no sensible person cares a whit. And that contribution is from the 1870 Census, when Benjamin was 10 years old. The Census indicates that Cardozo's paternal grandmother was from Cuba. What does that mean? Nothing, really. But now you know.

[Click on the picture for a clearer view.]

This'll Take 20 Seconds or So

Via Andrew Tobias, here's another good argument against those irritating clock radio alarms (the first being that they start your day with a headache):

You might have to watch an awful Skittles ad first, but click here to see a funny little film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Do Not Try This at Home!

I believe other nations have much to offer us, so I'm usually receptive to exploring their cultures for insights into the human condition that are not familiar to the pragmatic American ethos.

Which is why, two days ago, I decided to check out who won the Eurovision 2009 competition. If you're not familiar with Eurovision it is, as best as I can tell, a competition between the countries of Europe along the lines of American Idol. Each country submits its winner, and a United Europe chooses the year's champion. It is, I understand, a very big thing in Europe.

This year's winner was a Norwegian named Alexander Rybak. Here is the video, BUT BEFORE YOU WATCH IT, HEED THIS WARNING:

I'm not sure how much you can watch without going stark, raving mad. I can tell you I made it to the end, and by then it was too late. For two days I have had this tune pounding around in my head like a hundred ball bearings, and I have frightening dreams of Nordic men doing gymnastics. I have fantasies of stuffing Alexander Rybak into a burlap bag and throwing it off a bridge.

Do not watch this video with children you love in the room.

Maybe Dick Cheney and John Bolton are right, after all. Maybe we shouldn't care what the Europeans think about us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Breaking New Ground, or Something Else

Here in Chicago, there's a hate conservative radio talk station. Here's how they advertised themselves last year on several of the gigantic, incredibly ugly billboards that deface the city's skyline:

Notice the station's call letters? They chose those call letters on purpose! I think they're breaking new ground in truth-telling at that station. Get it? Breaking? Get it?

They're so clueless I don't even have to make stuff up.

Paranoia as Policy

I had a new post written about the hilarity of the Guantanamo hysteria, but once again, Gail Collins stole my next column and got it published in the New York Times.

To judge from the salsa ads, no 10-gallon hat out there thinks much of New York City, so it is especially delicious to hear a New Yorker calling them wimps. Of course, the hats don't read the New York Times; but it'll get back to them.

And, hey, look at the bright side – it's another reason to buy more guns, to protect yourself from terrorists held in maximum security prisons.

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.
Step out of line, the men come and take you away.

Addendum: I allowed myself to use several stereotypes in this post. I am not proud of myself for that.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It Was Worse Than We Thought

When the last book is written on the disastrous Bush years, it may be the man's naive religiosity that is blamed.

Exhibit A. GQ Magazine offers a slide show of the covers of 11 Defense Department intelligence briefings delivered to the President by Donald Rumsfeld.

Do you think maybe Rumsfeld was manipulating the boy, just a little?

Libertarian Paradise

A must-see video:

June 2, 2010 update: Welcome fellow fans of Andrew Tobias! If the video below does not work for you, it's because Blogger is not used to more than 3 people a week reading my blog. If that's the case, you can go directly to the YouTube site, and the video should run nicely there. Give it try here first, though. Enjoy! And thanks for dropping by.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GOP Dumps Elephant, Adopts New Symbol

WASHINGTON – In a surprise move, the Republican National Committee voted today to adopt the ostrich as the official symbol of the Republican Party. Beginning July 1, the ostrich will supplant the elephant, which has represented the party since a pachyderm labeled "The Republican Vote" appeared in an 1874 Thomas Nast cartoon in the magazine Harper's Weekly.

"The elephant is a socialistic animal," GOP Chairman Michael Steele told a press conference following the RNC meeting. "Herds have been observed protecting their young and assisting older members. There was a strong feeling among Committee members that this does not represent the values of the Republican Party."

There was some early sentiment to adopt the elephant bird as a compromise symbol, but after a several hours of debate, committee members learned the elephant bird has been extinct since the 1600's. The change in party symbol comes as part of a "rebranding" effort by a party seeking to recover from its overwhelming rejection in the 2008 election.

Asked what qualities of the ostrich attracted Republican committee members, Steele said, "The ostrich is a terrific runner, and we run for office. With this change, we will run faster."

In other action, the Republican National Committee voted to:
  • Ignore the judgment of nearly all scientists that man-made greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming, because "carbon dioxide is in Coca-Cola."
  • Blame Barack Obama for the banking crisis, the fall in property values, the recession, and federal failure to respond appropriately to Hurricane Katrina.
  • Call for further deregulation of the banking industry.
  • Call for further deregulation of securities markets.
  • Call for deregulation of the meat packing industry.
  • Denounce traffic lights as "unwarranted government intrusion" into citizens' lives.
  • Elect Newt Gingrich and his third wife, Callista, as the meeting's "Cutest Couple."
  • Denounce torture whenever and wherever it is done to American troops.
  • Endorse enhanced interrogation techniques by American intelligence agencies.
  • Amend the meetings' minutes to read "The Honorable Rush Limbaugh" wherever a member had used the word "godfather".
  • Allow visitors to carry concealed, loaded weapons in national parks. A motion to allow visitors to carry concealed, loaded weapons in Congress was defeated.
  • Ignore Presidential daily briefings with the title Osama bin Laden determined to strike in U.S. "It's always just some CIA agent trying to cover his ass," one committee member said.
  • Call for an investigation of Nancy Pelosi for criticizing the CIA.

Another Appeal to Cowardice

I was at first dismayed to see Senate Democrats announcing that funds to close Guantanamo would be withheld "until there is a plan." I guess I still am, but I see the political necessity.

Our beloved GOP, now pretty much totally in the hands of the fruit loops, decided they should whip their dwindling constituency into a froth with specters of escaped terrorists running loose on American streets. It may have been our war, and they may be our prisoners, but that's no reason we can't shunt the responsibility of dealing with them onto some other country. If there's one thing the GOP is good at, it's avoiding responsibility.

Putting the funding on the back burner for a few months defuses the hysteria long enough to beat it down with some facts.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Movie Recommendation

Here's a movie to put on your Netflix list: Lars and the Real Girl.

It's a funny movie about a fellow who buys a life-size blow-up doll, and falls in love with it. It sounds creepy, but it turns out to be one of those heart-warming, life-affirming movies that we all need once in a while. I had never heard of it until it was recommended by a friend, so of course everybody else has probably seen it already.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

HardArt groop

Last week we got an email from Kris, letting us know that John Elmquist's HardArt groop would be offering a concert at Ebenezer Lutheran Church. John is the music director at Ebenezer, and he is also a fairly brilliant composer and jazz artist. He might not call it jazz. He'd say:
I would mix some Brahms or Messiaen or whatever with improvised music, a little satire and maybe some spoken-word stuff or things that resemble rock and roll songs. After the first few years, I abandoned the idea of doing the music of other people as a part of this enterprise and now focus entirely on putting together programs of stuff that I write into single 90-minute events. This generally happens twice a year.
But me – if it's not Mozart or James Taylor, it's probably jazz. I am not a jazz afficionado, but I've been to several HardArt concerts, and they're always a delight. I'll never forget laughing my head off at the cleverness of a Christmas concert about 10 years ago.

John and his wife, Bev, have a special place in our hearts because they've volunteered at the Thanksgiving Dinner our (not Lutheran) church puts on for folks who are homeless, alone, or just can't afford a traditional holiday meal. The first year they volunteered, they got stuck washing dishes. We thought we'd never see them again. But they came back the next year! Suellen, who has been in charge of the dinner for almost 10 years, fondly referred to John and Bev as "my Lutherans." Here's a picture I took of their tribe in 2006.

"John usually does minimal advertising or lobbying for HardArt during choir," Kris wrote. "But for some reason, he keeps saying, 'I really think you guys are going to enjoy this one.'"

The concert was Tuesday night, and John wasn't exaggerating. The biggest surprise, for me, was the size of the ensemble – every time I counted I got a different number, until Suellen sweetly pointed out that their names were listed in the program. So I can authoritatively say there were 20 musicians.

Frankly, the pictures I took don't do them justice. I snuck this picture while the real photographer was taking a group shot. You might have figured that out.

Wait a minute! ... sixteen, seventeen, there are only eighteen people there! Well, they played like 20 people.

The backdrop was pretty awesome. It is the sun, with solar flares coming out on the sides. This picture gives you a better feel for it:

Now, I am not a music critic. So I can't make you feel like you're there just by describing it, and I can't say things like "an obvious disciple of Thelonious Monk," and know what the heck I'm talking about. I only listened to Thelonious Monk once.

But I can state authoritatively this was NOT Thelonious Monk!

John has a droll sense of humor that makes its way into his music. The program notes themselves are wonderful. Here's his description of the first piece, an 8-parter, called TripUp:
1. Michael's Dad -- a juvenile contemplates a friend's offer of money to kill the friend's father
2. Come On Kids -- introductory narrative
3. TripUp -- instrumental
4. Prickles -- Upon entering the apartment he meets a cat. They visit and discuss the afternoon's activities.
5. Prickles' Complaint -- the cat has his own issues with the victim
6. Jiggy Fiddle -- the boy and the cat dance
7. Dad Down -- success!
8. So You See -- concluding summary
Lest you be concerned, remember: John is the music director at a Lutheran church. The piece is not an invitation to patricide, but perhaps it is a comment on the banality of evil. Besides, the program notes don't tell you how it all turns out. Heh, heh.

A piece called "I" had a line I wrote down to use myself in the future: "My mouth took off and my mind couldn't find it." I've been there once or twice! The program notes described the fifth ... er ... movement? ... called "Everybody's Larry Storch":
While he was working on F-Troop, Larry Storch thought the show was some diversion en route to his real acting destiny. He would realize that it was the capstone of his career only when it was too late to appreciate it. Moral: don't be dumb.

Speaking of sneaking pictures, I also snuck a short video to give you an idea of what it all sounded like. Unfortunately, the sound quality on a little camera is not too good. But you can make out the lyrics if you listen carefully. This is from TripUp, the cat story:

The singers here are Cheryl Wilson and Lexie Bloor. They, like all the musicians, seemed to be having a great time (just like the audience). Here's another clip, with better sound quality, I think:

But ignore this stuff. Go to the HardArt groop's web site and look around. You can listen to their music (professionally recorded), download their albums, and read all about them. And send them some dinero.

John was right; we really enjoyed this one.

Three Looks at Afghanistan

Just some links today.

The first two links describe the same ambush on a patrol in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, but from different perspectives.

The Taliban attacked by detonating a bomb after part of the patrol had passed the position of the bomb, thus dividing the patrol in half. The first link is to a film of the patrol made by a video team that was in the rear.

The second link is to photos made by a photographer (Tyler Hicks) who was in the forward part of the patrol.

Last year Tyler Hicks also took these pictures of Kabul.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's Raining in Chicago

It has been a depressing day, and it's not even 9 a.m.

I went looking for a good picture of Satan to illustrate a post on Dick Cheney. I thought I found one, then went to read the blog I was stealing it from. The welcoming comment from the blogger was this:

As you read these words, more than 30 million Islamist men are dreaming up ways to murder you and your children. Don't you think it's about time we rolled up our sleeves to destroy them as quickly and decisively as possible?
Chew on that one for a while.

The caption of the associated Satan art suggested it was the image of Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the New York Times. That sort of put me off using a picture of Satan to illustrate a post on Dick Cheney.

Instead, I recommend Maureen Dowd's column today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Pathological Weakness of the Financial Memory

Arianna's got a good one today.

Yesterday we were in the car and Suellen had a stock market program on the radio. I was amazed that two of their "stock market analysts" said we're now in a bull market. The economy is not in free-fall right now, and that's a major accomplishment. But the economy is still shedding jobs left and right.

Here, via is your bull market (the dark blue line shows market performance since October 2007):

We're not out of the woods yet, folks. Not by a long shot.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Gail Collins

Have you noticed how frequently I've been linking to Gail Collins columns?

The woman agrees with me on everything. She is brilliant!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Internet Security

Came across this disturbing story:

Hackers last week broke into a Virginia state Web site used by pharmacists to track prescription drug abuse. They deleted records on more than 8 million patients and replaced the site's homepage with a ransom note demanding $10 million for the return of the records, according to a posting on, an online clearinghouse for leaked documents.
Reading the comments from people who sound like they know something about this sort of thing, it may be a hoax. But the web page was definitely "broken into".

As we come to rely more and more on the internet for everything from dating to banking and medical records, it's becoming more obvious that our laws have not kept up with the technology. I've read that 95% of internet traffic is spam. If the truth is one-twentieth of that, it's still ridiculous. There need to be very serious consequences for people involved in this sort of stuff.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

An Evening with Leonard Cohen

Last night was our expedition to the gorgeous Chicago Theater in the Loop to see my all-time favorite, Leonard Cohen, in concert. I've spent some time trying to think of a way to explain Leonard Cohen to people who aren't familiar with him. I guess the best I can do is say you probably are familiar with him — you just don't know it. He has written many songs that other singers made lots of money with. I think the first was Judy Collins, singing Suzanne. His most recent "hit" is something called Hallelujah, which was covered by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright (the better of the two). You heard Hallelujah in the movie Shrek. His music has been called a collaboration between Thomas Merton and Jacques Brel, and that sounds just right.

Leonard has been around for a while. His first album was released in 1967, and I'm pretty sure I was a fan before that. Seriously.

Leonard stopped touring during the 1990s and spent five years as a monk in a Buddhist monastery. He left that, he said, because "it was too hard." Besides, "cheerfulness kept breaking through." When he left the monastery, he discovered that his business manager had stolen his money. So much for cheerfulness, I guess.

Now in his 70s, he had to go back on tour. I really wanted to see this show, and so did Suellen, who became a Leonard fan in the 1970s when she met a strange guy she was later foolish enough to marry. The story of getting tickets is told here. Thanks again to our friend, Ted.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to get there. We could have driven, but finally decided we'd take the L downtown, and a cab home. The L is a couple of blocks from our house, and three blocks from the theater, which is about the outer limits of Suellen's mobility right now, but she wanted to do it this way. Riding downtown at 6:45 p.m. looks like this:

The train was pretty empty because most people were riding in the other direction. Once we got downtown, I took some pictures on the way, just to give non-Chicagoans a feel for the trip.

That's the Loop L tracks over Lake Street on the right. Finally, we turn a corner, and voila!

Inside the theater, I had some time to take pictures. You may notice that most of the audience is about my age, which is to say, they have achieved their prime. Or, as Leonard says, "My friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play."

Yes, we had front row balcony seats! And below are some of the poor chumps who didn't!

So here are some pictures of the 3-hour concert.

I said Leonard is in his 70's; he's 74, to be precise. People in the music business had to work on him for several years to get him to agree to tour again. He didn't think people would turn out. This concert was a sell-out the first day tickets were available, and a second night was quickly scheduled -- which also sold out. While talking to the audience, Leonard reflected that the last time he had been on stage in Chicago was 15 years ago, when he was "just a crazy kid with a dream."

He's quite dapper. The following verse got a big cheer from the women in the audience.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend.

You told me again you preferred handsome men

But for me you would make an exception.

— From Chelsea Hotel, a song about Janis Joplin.

After several encores, at 11:30 the crowd poured onto State Street. Suellen was feeling okay and didn't want to take a cab. Too expensive.

So we took the L back home again. We had enough company to feel quite comfortable.

We walked in our front door at 12:30 a.m. We had a wonderful time, but I'm glad I don't do this every night.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

It Was a Joke!

I've received several emails suggesting that the bird I identified as an emu probably isn't.

They're right. It is a rooster. I was kidding about the emu. So much for my humor.

Chicago Birds

Here are three pictures of birds taken within a couple of hundred yards of our house.

Long-time readers will recall that there's now a big empty lot across the street. The building that was there was razed in preparation for building 20 very nice houses, that the builder was looking to get $800,000 apiece for. Then something happened to the housing market. You may have heard about it.

So now we have a big empty lot, with two big holes in it that have filled with water. This attracts ducks and geese.

The male mallard hung around for a few days. I'm thinking he has a sad story to tell. Must be very lonely at this time of year.

This morning I was at the computer and heard a bird call I couldn't remember hearing in this neighborhood, so went out looking for what it the world it could be. Turned out to be a common killdeer, but they're not so common in this part of Chicago. My bird book says, "Not only is it abundant and conspicuous, but its loud call compels attention." Yup.

Finally, walking home from working at the food pantry last week I spotted a really unusual sight in the city ("♫ In the city .... ♫In the city♫" [just a sneaky way to send you to my nephews' band]). One neighbor has a garden that's sort of overgrown, in a lush, Garden of Eden sort of way. As I was walking by I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a largish bird walking around in the undergrowth. Luckily I had my camera.

It's actually not in my bird book. I'm pretty sure it's an emu, though. I have no idea how it got there.

Incidentally, there are a couple of really good examples here of why my kid brother, who actually knows something about taking pictures of fauna, always focuses manually, rather than letting the camera decide to focus on -- oh, a nearby stick, say.

Monday, May 04, 2009

There Will Always Be an England

Through a posting to an English mail list this morning, I learned of the March March March.
The March March march is a long, flat, pointless walk across the Fens from the town of March to Cambridge, a distance of about thirty miles. It takes place, of course, in March, often but not always on the last Saturday in March. It has no purpose other than to be called the March March march. It was invented by Jonathan Partington in 1979, apparently because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Participants keep good records, though.
There have been successful March March marches in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. There was an attempted March in 2002 but nobody completed it, and a March was planned in 2007 but nobody started it. The omission of 1980 is regretted but it is no longer possible to do anything about it. The March March march was on a Wednesday in 1979 and 1986 and on a Sunday in 1981 and 1989, but has otherwise always been on a Saturday. Two March March marches, in 1988 and 2005, went (intentionally) to Ely rather than Cambridge: one Marcher did this unintentionally in 1982.
Thirty years later, I can see this overtaking the Boston Marathon in popularity. Okay, maybe in a few more years. "The route has now become fairly canonical." Now that sounds like something I'd like to do.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Three Good Reads

Make sure you read Jodi Kantor's excellent article about who Obama the lawyer might choose for the Supreme Court. Obama has said he will seek Republican input (which is more respect than they deserve), and he seems to be serious about that. But watch, the Republicans will act like idiots anyway.

A favorite line from the article: "The University of Chicago was and is full of eminent theorizers who wrap up huge areas of the law by applying some magic key." Boy, is THAT ever the truth!

Maureen Dowd stops writing about who she saw at whose party, and writes about something important, for a change.

And Frank Rich sums it all up pretty well.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Two Weeks and Still No Pandemic

Gail Collins in today's NY Times:
If you interview a scientist about almost anything, they will tell you there is some level of risk. A while back, I talked to a prominent physicist who carefully explained that although the odds against all the oxygen molecules suddenly racing over to clump on one side of the room were really, really, really high, it could happen. And that if it did, it would be most unpleasant.

Anything might happen. The flu could suddenly become superlethal. Or, as we have learned from decades of movie-going, it could be innocuous on the surface but then turn its victims into zombies or giant walking cornstalks. And if any of that happens, I want you to remember that I said it was a serious concern.
Right now it's looking like this flu might not be quite so bad as the pandemic of 1918-19, which killed 25-100 million (depending on where you read it). Thank goodness for that. Governments were right to be concerned, though.