Friday, December 27, 2013

How to Talk Funny in Chicago

I answered 25 questions about what I call things and how I pronounce them, and the NY Times guessed I was from Newark.

My "hometown" is just 20 miles north of there.

Give it a try. And a tip of the hat to Paul Krugman (also "from" Newark; or Yonkers; or New York).

The alternate cities for me were Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What did Chris Christie know, and when did he know it?

By now you've heard of Bridgegate, the New Jersey scandal in which a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed down several lanes to the George Washington Bridge, ostensibly as a "traffic study," but obviously – let's face it – to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for reelection to governor. The lane closings resulted in 4-hour traffic jams. So the mayor of Fort Lee was not the only one being punished.

The guy who ordered the lane closings, David Wildstein, was a childhood friend of Christie's, but still ...  it is hard to believe that Christie himself would be involved in something so stupid.

Unfortunately, it's becoming less and less hard to believe as time goes by. This can't be good for Christie.

Imagine you are governor of New Jersey. Before you slash your wrists, think about what your reaction would be to learning – after the fact – that one of your political appointees had done something this stupid, punishing your own constituents. What would you do? Would you fire him? Would you demand full disclosure? I would. In a New Jersey minute.

Now compare that to Christie's reaction.

Mark Kleiman has this take on it:
The Wall Street Journal reports that both David Wildstein and Bill Baroni [another Christie appointee to Port Authority] have now “lawyered up.” If you’re Christie, that’s bad. The Journal also reports that they’ve both hired criminal defense lawyers. If you’re Christie, that’s worse.
Wildstein’s lawyer’s previous clients include Sharpe James, the appallingly corrupt Mayor of Newark replaced by Cory Booker, who wound up spending 18 months in a federal penitentiary. If you’re Christie, that’s just awful; Wildstein didn’t hire a top corruption-defense lawyer just to advise him on how to respond to subpoenas. He clearly thinks he’s in deep doo-doo, and probably in deep Federal doo-doo at that.
But the worst news – if you’re Christie – is that Baroni’s lawyer is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey named Michael Himmel.
In 2009, Mr. Himmel also represented Solomon Dwek, a former real estate investor who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering charges. Mr. Dwek became an FBI informant in a case brought by Mr. Christie that implicated dozens of elected officials in a widespread corruption investigation.
So not only does Baroni think he needs serious criminal defense, he’s hired someone with a history of making deals in which his client gets a break in return for implicating everyone else in sight. (The technical term is “cooperation.”) And the only person above Baroni in the pecking order – the only one Baroni can hope to save himself by snitching on – is Gov. Soprano himself.
 So it's time to pull out the "Watergate Warning" for Governor Christie, a former U.S. Attorney:

It's not the crime they get you for; it's the cover-up. Be careful.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Chicago Was Chicago

I got this back in 1977, and have carried it with me since then. In Chicago, you never know when you're going to need it. I understand it can be used as voter identification.

By the way, this is the whole receipt. Nothing has been clipped off.

Sempringham, Through His Teacher's Eyes

Mr. Hartman had me pegged – right from the beginning of the 6th grade.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Omo Child

Warning: This is a plea for money.

A few days ago I pointed you to a NY Times article about the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a telemarketing scheme devised by a Harvard Law graduate that raised $100 million and gave almost none of it to Navy Veterans. They were good at what they did; unfortunately, what they did was fraud, theft, and money laundering.

Keep that number in your head: $100 million raised, and almost none of it went anywhere good.

Now let me tell you about another charity: Omo Child.

It is hard to find an inhabited area of the world that is more remote than the Omo River Valley in southwest Ethiopia. A National Geographic article called it Africa's Last Frontier.

I stole this excellent National Geographic map from the Omo Child web site. I just couldn't find another nearly as good. Click on it for a better view.

The Omo Valley is home to several tribes, including (as you can see) the Mursi, Kara, and Hamar. Among some Omo tribes there is an unfortunate practice called Mingi. Simply stated, Mingi is the designation of some children as a curse on the tribe, children whose presence provokes evil spirits to withhold rain, cause illness or death, or otherwise wreak havoc on the tribe.

A child can be declared Mingi if his/her top teeth come in before the bottom teeth. Or if the child is born out of wedlock, or pregnancy occurs without the elders' consent, or if the child is a twin.

To remove the curse on the tribe, the Mingi child is killed, either by drowning starvation or by exposure.

Omo Child takes as its mission the rescue of these children, and "to provide a safe, nurturing home and quality education for Mingi children. Our hope is that these children will become future leaders in their tribes and communities." In addition, Omo Child is trying to end the practice of Mingi in the Omo Valley tribes. So far, they have been successful with one tribe, the Kara, who ended the practice a year ago.

Omo Child was founded by a member of the Kara tribe, Lale Labuko (the first of his tribe to receive an education), and an American businessman and photographer, John Rowe. Labuko is the man on the scene, and he and the organization's work are spotlighted in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic.

So far Omo Child has rescued 37 children. The children are being raised in a three-room house. They have loving nannies and the older children go to school.

Please explore the Omo Child website for more information.

Now, do you recall that number I asked you to remember?  It was how much money a sorry excuse for a human being stole from people who were trying to be helpful to others.

Right: it was $100 million.

In 2011, Omo Child had total revenues of $109,000.  Take a look at their financials. There is no fat there. There are no professional directors pulling in $500,000+ salaries.

Food for one child costs $42 a month. Nanny care for one child costs $38/mo. Sending a child to school costs $34/mo. There are other expenses, but you get the picture. It's pretty simple: a moderate contribution has a real impact because it goes to the kid.

If you're looking to get some bang for your charitable dollar, it's hard to see how you could do better than Omo Child. And the potential of these children to have a real impact on their communities and country some 20 years down the road is incredible. More bang!

Omo Child is currently conducting a year-end fundraising campaign. They are hoping to raise $30,000. Can you help them?

"It is not what we say or feel that makes us who we are. It is what we do; or fail to do."

U.S. Navy Veterans Association

My brother, Mike – a Navy Vietnam veteran – wrote me of his own experience with the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a telemarketing scam of which I wrote here.
Back in 2010 I was contacted by phone by someone representing himself as a member of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. He knew all the right buttons to press and also told me that he was a retired Navy vet and that the association had done so many good things for he and his wife that he had given up his good civilian job to go work for the association. He said he was a Viet Nam vet and told a pretty convincing story about some incidents in DaNang of which I had some knowledge. In short he convinced me to make a donation.
After the call I started thinking about everything he had told me and became suspicious so I looked them up on Google and became aware of the less generous portions of the organization, as told by former sailors and civilians who felt they had been hoodwinked. I suspect that this is when the two reporters in Florida got wind of the story.
In short, I decided not to donate. Imagine my surprise when I got a call several weeks later asking me if I had forgotten about my promised donation. I started relaying some of the info I had uncovered to which the reply was that "there are always some dissatisfied people and that these stories were untrue" and the association's president was soon to expose the whole lot of them. I told him I would wait for the exposé before donating a penny to the association. I'm still waiting. Seems like they caught the ringleader.  For once no egg on my face but sadness for the Navy vets who lost out because of this bastard.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

There is NO SUCH THING as a "Tactical Nuclear Weapon"

Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, whose dad was Congressman Duncan L. Hunter, has opined that we could use a "tactical nuclear device" in Iran. This clown was born in 1976, so he doesn't remember when Barry Goldwater wanted to use "tactical nuclear weapons" in Vietnam.

Congressman Duncan Doofus Hunter
(yes, it's really his picture)

Somebody needs to sit this boy down an' larn him some things.

You can create a nuclear "device" that will take out a block, say, or a neighborhood, and you can say that because it's impact is thus limited it is therefore a "tactical" weapon. You can say that if you want, Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, but you'd be an idiot if you did.

The United States is the only country to have used a nuclear weapon on an enemy. It's always interesting to argue whether we should have, or whether we could have impressed Japan sufficiently by destroying some offshore island. It's a game of "what if ...", but the fact is that we used it.

We obliterated two Japanese cities. According to the unimpeachable Wikipedia: "Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day."

Surprisingly, this episode seems to have made an impression on the world, because in the nearly 70 years since, despite the Korean War, despite the Cold War, despite the Vietnamese War, despite the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and all the wars that other countries have fought that we've managed to stay out of, nobody has used a nuclear weapon again (although several countries went out and got themselves one).

And maybe that's the sad gift of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – that because of what happened to them, the world has seen the horror and for 70 years has had no stomach to repeat it. So all the thousands of nuclear weapons built by the United States and the USSR have mostly become disposal problems.

Now comes Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, who thinks we could use a nuclear "device" as though it were just some field weapon.

What Congressman Dum-Dum doesn't understand is that using a nuclear weapon of ANY size would have consequences far beyond the battlefield where it was employed. It would be a game changer. The BIG game! The STRATEGIC game. Pandora's Box would blow wide open and the furies would be released.

Other countries, seeing that the United States had legitimated the use of nuclear weapons for non-existential tasks, would feel quite justified to employ them in their own disputes. Who could tell them not to? Certainly not the United States. Things would fall apart pretty quickly.

Nobody knows where the dust would settle, or if it ever would.

A nuclear weapon, regardless of how limited or "tactical" its physical effect, is a strategic weapon of the first order. Handle with care.

"The Third Way," Indeed!

If you're a political junkie, you're probably familiar with The Third Way, an allegedly "centrist" group of alleged Democrats.

There's been a hoopla in the past few days about a Third Way op-ed in the hallowed opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, a place where the opinions of Suzanne Somers on the Affordable Care Act are considered worthy of publishing.

The op-ed, which you can read here,  is your basic sky is falling piece about Social Security. In 1980 or 1981 I debated a John Birch Society member on a Christian radio station about the exact same subject. The numbers proved, if I remember her correctly, that Social Security wouldn't be around in 10 years. Today it's not the wacko right I'd have to debate, it's the wacko centrists.

But who are these guys, really?

The most left-wing web site I visit is something called Daily Kos. They did the work, so we don't have to.