This Week's year-end Best of the late night comedians.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Lots of year-end lists. This one is the best (and most important to remember). Slate presents The Bill of Wrongs -- The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006. As Dahlia Lithwick explains:
I love those year-end roundups—ubiquitous annual lists of greatest films and albums and lip glosses and tractors. It's reassuring that all human information can be wrestled into bundles of 10. In that spirit, Slate proudly presents, the top 10 civil liberties nightmares of the year.How many can you name?
Saturday, December 30, 2006
As we get ready to head north (to Scranton), for the last of the family holiday visits, I came across this post by Steve Gimbel of Philosophers' Playground on Bad Gifts.
It's his opinion that:
Those who say there are no bad gifts are like those who say there are no stupid questions...they are wrong. Sure, with respect to gifts, it's the thought that counts, but sometimes you are left wondering, "what were you thinking?"The Sacramento Bee picked up his theme, with a piece Gift cards: Caring or a cop-out?, noting:
In order to lift this plague of bad gifts, we have seen the rise of the gift card. A bit more stylish than its precursor, the awkwardly sized paper gift certificate, the new plastic version is gaining currency as an acceptable alternative to shopping. But does really avoid the problems of the poorly executed present? No.
I agree with Steve. As I've mentioned before, l love the holidays. Part of that is the gift giving. I enjoy being able to give to others and to find just the right little present that is perfect for that person. I usually begin my Christmas shopping in September, looking for those treasures as I go. I never used to ask the recipient what he or she wanted, because part of the fun was the surprise.
The little plastic cards will be stuffed in stockings everywhere, good for everything from smoothies and coffee to iTunes downloads and home-improvement gear.
But are gift cards becoming the new fruitcake?
Steven Gimbel thinks so, though he may be an army of one. The philosophy professor at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., lectures on matters of ethics and logic, and reasons that gift cards stamp out an almost indefinable spark between giver and recipient.
"When you think of gift- giving, there's that moment of shock: 'How could you have known that was perfect?'" says Gimbel. "What happens at that moment goes beyond that (gift) itself. There's a connectiveness with that person. For those who are the closest to you, (gift cards take) away from that intimacy."
Do consumers think so?
Not judging by the more than $24 billion in gift-card purchases they are expected to make this holiday season, a $6 billion increase over 2005, according to the National Retail Federation Gift Card Survey.
Sometimes I'll stumble across a unique item that I'll buy, even if I'm not sure who it's for at that time. It may be one of those things that a few people might enjoy. Other times, I'll see something that "looks just like" the person & I'm in luck. To me, the important thing is to look for a gift that the person would like, not me (and if it's something I like, I may have to treat myself).
I prefer going to craft fairs, antique stores and shopping at small boutiques -- it helps to keep the holiday shopping experience a pleasant one. For example, when shopping in Chestnut Hill during the holidays, there are musicians playing music on the streets and people may actually smile at each other. I know many of the shop owners, so they are friendly. I rarely shop at malls, so I avoid the hassle and craziness involved in the mall scene.
Much as I enjoy being a Santa & a gift giver, it has become increasingly difficult to do. As Gimbel correctly explains:
A good gift is also something someone wants. There is no greater success than seeing wide eyes and hearing, "How did you know?" A great present is one that displays an unspoken intimacy, an understanding of who the person really is.I also think it is harder because we have so much. We are a materialistic society & are into acquiring things. I certainly don't exclude myself from that. As I often say, I've long past needing anything. At this point, all of the objects of my desire are in the want category. In any event, the result is that actual gift giving is increasingly fading as a part of our culture. Gimbel notes:
But, of course, this is where life gets tricky because even folks you know well are not always transparent in this way. Picking out a gift is making a statement about what you see as a person's projects and pleasures and this will reflect how you see and judge them. If the person is a music lover, you might think that buying them music would be a good idea. But, of course, this is a holiday mine field. You don't want to get them music they will dislike or music they already have. If there is a specific genre or artist they like, buying certain popular titles may accidentally indicate that you think they are not enough of a fan that they wouldn't already have this cd or that they are a johnny-come-lately.
This is where the gift card has found a home in the gift giving process. If you let them pick out their music, books, or games, they'll be guaranteed to get what they wanted and in an indirect way, you gave it to them. You will have made the people you were buying for happy and done it without all the tedious figuring out what to buy. What could be better?See also, More Bad Gifts.
But it is precisely this simplicity that impoverishes the giving of the gift card. Yes, you are guaranteed to not have given a bad gift, but at what expense? Now, gift giving has become about the gift itself, and not the giving. The sense of connection is gone. The gift card is about you, not about us. It sends the message that happiness is to be found in acquiring the things you want, not in being close to people who care about you – even if the people close to you do not really know you. . . . Sometimes it is the thought that counts.
This year, sad to say, I took the easy route, at least for the teen members of the family. Who knows what to get them? They don't even know what they want. Little kids got toys. Adults still got gifts, but the in-betweeners got cash. After hearing a story about gift cards on NPR, Gift Cards: The Gifts That Keep on Taking, I opted for cash. It's what my younger brother used to call the "gift of love" -- money.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Wal-Mart is a true believer in the Christmas holidays. It was an early "Merry Christmas" covert, lauded by Bill O'Reilly, keeper of the War on Christmas. See Think Progress.
In that vein, what better way to celebrate the Christmas season than for Wal-Mart to do everything in its power to ensure that their Christmas shoppers are able to shop until they drop? The Sioux Falls paper, the Argus Leader reported that Wal-Mart didn't close despite a pre-holiday threat, in Wal-Mart stays open for search:
Last Saturday afternoon, Eva Voorhees heard the clatter of feet on the roof of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Mitchell where she works in the photo department - but it wasn't the pitter-patter of reindeer.Wal-Mart. It's tagline should be: A truly Christian kind of place, a good corporate citizen. Of course, that only applies if the one true God is a buck.
It was the police looking for a bomb. Up front, police officers, the SWAT team and others were busy searching the store next to customers who were browsing for gifts. The police looked in jewelry counters, wrapping paper rolls, freezers, the back room where trucks unload and closets at Tire Lube Express.
During the nearly two-hour search, Wal-Mart officials opted not to evacuate the busy discount store even though police recommended they do so. Wal-Mart officials said the call was a hoax and not a threat.
The incident has family members of Wal-Mart employees criticizing store officials for failing to take the threat seriously."It's right before Christmas. They were swamped with people," she said. "To me, they endangered the community, customers and associates. They put making a buck ahead of public safety."
Voorhees has worked at the Mitchell discount chain for about four years. Her daughter, Charlotte Goode, 36, said Voorhees called her Sunday, crying and upset as she relayed the story.
On Saturday, the Mitchell store - like many retailers nationwide - was filled with customers making last-minute holiday purchases. The store had at least $400,000 in sales at stake.
When Elida Antaya of Plankinton shopped at the store about 9 a.m., she said it was full of customers.
The store received a call at 2:10 p.m. from a male who said a bomb was there. Lyndon Overweg, Mitchell public safety chief, said the caller did not go into specific details.Overweg said police recommended the store be evacuated to allow SWAT team and other officers to search the building. But Wal-Mart opted not to, he said.
The SWAT team was dispatched, along with many officers to help clear out the store.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Walter Shapiro penned a look-back piece for Salon on 2006: The Year in Politics, A decisive year for "the decider" -- The Bush presidency plunged into a death spiral as the reality of Iraq spurred Americans to hand over Capitol Hill to the Democrats. Starting with a Bush quote:
"In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country."
-- George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 31, 2006
Rarely in the annals of American democracy has a president spoken with such godlike prescience about the year to come. The choices made by the voters in the 2006 elections altered the future of the nation and asserted the character of the country. A religious man, Bush undoubtedly appreciates these words of Jesus: "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country." But, as seems evident, Bush never expected this biblical statement to apply directly to him and his tragic misadventure in Iraq.
How bad a year was it for Bush? There are four distinct stages in the death spiral of a presidency -- and Bush managed to reach three of them in 2006. He began the year with desperate, reality-defying belief in spin, as symbolized by this brazen line from the State of the Union: "We're on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory." Then came denial, as the president in his bunker believed Field Marshal Karl Rove's assurances that the Republicans had wonder weapons they would deploy on Election Day. Now we are in the Harry Truman phase, as Bush frequently likens himself to that midcentury president whose approval rating hit 23 percent during the Korean War. Pretty soon the star-crossed Bush (whose own popularity score is barely hovering above 30 percent) may display this motto on his desk: "The Luck Stops Here." All that is missing in this four-part saga is for Bush to start talking to the portraits on the White House walls -- the political version of the Book of Revelation that truly heralds Nixonian end times.
* * * *
[M]ostly this was a decisive year for a president who may wonder why he sought a second term. Now, mired in an unpopular war and deprived of the protection of a Republican Congress, George W. Bush -- the only true "decider" per self-proclamation -- must decide how to handle his final two years in office. For even amid the splendid isolation of the White House, Bush cannot escape the big message of 2006: The American people have offered a stinging vote of "no confidence" in his presidency.
Shapiro says that Bush has reached only 3 of the 4 stages of the death spiral of a presidency to date. However, can Shapiro really be sure there is no picture talking going on? After all, as noted in A Little Help from my Friends, questions regarding how Bush is dealing with stress have started to appear. See also, Bush's New Look on Iraq: Weary from the Washington Post.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Christmas marked the date that we surpassed the number of 9/11 deaths by the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq, see George's Gift to the Nation, from OneGoodMove.
Of course, that number does not begin to represent the true toll from this war (our toll that is -- not to mention the untold/unknown loss of innocent Iraqi lives). For example, not included in the count is the death of James Dean, a reservist who served in Iraq for 18 months, but could not bear to return. Instead he chose "Suicide by cop" and they obliged.
As reported by the Washington Post, Reservist Due for Iraq Is Killed in Standoff With Police:
I can only ask why when reading this. Why is killing the only answer?
Despondent about his orders, Dean barricaded himself inside his father's home with several weapons on Christmas, threatening to kill himself. After a 14-hour standoff with authorities, Dean was killed yesterday by a police officer after he aimed a gun at another officer, police said.
Wanda Matthews, who lives next door to Dean's father and said she thought of the younger man as a son, described him as a "very good boy."
"His dad told me that he didn't want to go to war," Matthews said. "He had already been out there and didn't want to go again."
The SF Gate article on the incident noted that "police were preparing to use tear gas to force Dean out of the home" when he was shot. As All Spin Zone said, in “He was a good country boy”:
What ever happened to shooting in the leg or other non-lethal force? Seems like that was the norm for most of my life. Now, it seems like every week now there’s another story of someone being killed by police officers.I guess it was just too hard to deal with any other way (both for the police as well as Dean). The police had to know that he was a soldier who had served in Iraq. And this is the thanks he got for serving our country?
Who are we again?
Gerald Ford, 38th President, Dies at 93.
Dana Carvey was way ahead of his time. He reported the story of former president Ford's death a decade ago (as Tom Brokaw, announcing the various ways Gerald Ford could die) in this 1996 episode from SNL.
And according to Wonkette, Washington Post obituary writer J.Y. Smith died nearly a year before he reported on Gerald Ford’s tragic death in today’s paper.
(Video via OneGoodMove)
From Bloomberg Worldwide News, comes the news that we are still # 1 in some things -- of course, not necessarily good things -- World's `Worst' Visa System Scares Business Away From the U.S.:
For growing numbers of international business travelers, visa and customs regulations are making trips to the U.S. a thing of the past.Just one more thing to thank George Bush & his Administration for. Add it to the list.
Companies say U.S. rules have become so onerous in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that it's often simpler to meet customers, business partners and employees elsewhere. Exxon Mobil Corp. has resorted to customer meetings in a London branch office; Ingersoll-Rand Co. says it took one of its Indian engineers three 18-hour trips to get his U.S. visa.
Problems created by the entry requirements have become so evident that the man who initially helped enforce them -- Tom Ridge, the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security -- is now working with a business group to change them.
* * * *
The number of business travelers to the U.S. fell 10 percent in 2005 from the previous year . . . foreign travelers found that the U.S. entry process was rated the ``worst'' by a margin of more than two to one.
Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Travel Industry Association, says the situation ``is going to have disastrous implications'' for the U.S. economy unless changes are made. The National Foreign Trade Council says the entry rules cost U.S. businesses $31 billion in lost sales and higher expenses between 2002 and 2004.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
This NY Times article asks the question, Bush-Watchers Wonder How He Copes With Stress:
President Bush marched into his year-end news conference last week with the usual zip in his step. As always, he professed little worry about his legacy or the polls. As always, he said the United States would win in Iraq. The nation might despair, but not Mr. Bush; his presidential armor seemed firmly intact.Gee, I too have wondered how he's coping with being himself? But my thoughts turn in a different direction:
Yet a longtime friend of Mr. Bush’s recently spotted a tiny crack in that armor. “He looked tired, for the first time, which I hadn’t seen before,” this friend said.
Mr. Bush has never been one for introspection, in public or in private. But the questions of how the president is coping, and whether his public pronouncements match what he feels as he searches for a new strategy in Iraq, have been much on the minds of Bush-watchers these days.
Can the president really believe, as he said on Wednesday, that “victory in Iraq is achievable,” when a bipartisan commission led by his own father’s secretary of state calls the situation there “grave and deteriorating?” Is he truly content to ignore public opinion and let “the long march of history,” as he calls it, pass judgment on him after he is gone? Does he lie awake at night, as President Lyndon B. Johnson did during the Vietnam War, fretting over his decisions?
Monday, December 25, 2006
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
Friends of Freedom knew it was a special occasion.
Lady Liberty stood taller just off the shore
Her torch shining brighter than a few weeks before
But it wasn't the flame turning her cheeks all rosy
It was thoughts of Snowe, Feingold and Nancy Pelosi
And leaders from every side of the aisle
Who would soon bring the Bill of Rights back into style.
The Amendments had all hurried out of their beds -
Which was no easy task, they were nearly in shreds -
And they rushed to the window on papery feet
As a jolly old man flew right over their street.
"Could it be!?" they inquired as the roof shook and trembled
And they crept toward the mantle, peaceably assembled,
Just as someone emerged from the chimney with flair
In a shiny red suit, with a shock of white hair
And a top hat, and pants all in red, white and blue -
"Wait a minute," the Amendments exclaimed, "Who are you?"
"Don't be frightened my children," he said, "it's no scam.
"You can't have forgotten your old Uncle Sam!"
"Holy crap!" said Free Speech. "Stop right there!" yelled Bear Arms
And Privacy cried "Who shut off the alarms?!"
The Fifth remained silent, but Uncle Sam said
"We've been having some trouble, but Freedom's not dead."
The Amendments were cautious. "It's just been so long
"We've seen Liberty lost, we've seen so much go wrong.
"The President's trying to mangle and warp us,
"The Fourth is in tatters, so's Habeas Corpus!"
The old man sat down - he had had quite a ride -
But he told them "Don't worry, the Law's on our side,
"'Cause the nation's fed up and more people are crying
"For Justice and an end to illegal spying,
"And secret abductions by the CIA,
"And laws that would take women's choices away,
"And Gitmo tribunals and secret detention,
"And other intrusions too numerous to mention - "
"Not so fast," said a grinchity voice from above
And Don Rumsfeld pushed past the Fourteenth with a shove.
He was covered in soot and he looked kind of scary.
It seemed like his Christmas had not been so merry.
The Amendments said they weren't happy to see him:
"You tried to throw all of us in the museum!
"You've done so much the Constitution forbids!"
"And I would have gone on, but for you meddling kids!"
Uncle Sam told him "Rummy, your plans just won't do,
"So we've got a brand new timetable for you!"
And as Rumsfeld retired and crept into the night
The Amendments cried out "Have a good secret flight!"
From the distance they heard him reply with a snort.
"Bye-bye, Rummy!" they answered, "we'll see you in court!"
Uncle Sam rode the chimney up out of the room
And, like Frosty, he said "I'll be back again soon."
But they heard him exclaim "Oh, and just one more thing!
"This year, when the holiday bells start to ring,
"Try to honor religion. Honest faith can't be wrong.
"It's America, can't we all just get along?
"So, on Christian," he cried, "Muslim, Hindu, and Jew!
"On Quaker! On Shaker! And Atheist too!
"On Buddhist! On Taoist! And to show we're not chickens
"We'll file a few lawsuits defending the Wiccans!
"Your belief is your right, so get out there and savor it.
"Uncle Sam's not a preacher, and he doesn't play favorites!"
So this holiday season, whatever you do,
Warmest wishes for Freedom, from the ACLU.
-- An Overdue Visit
The NY Times has an article that is for one of the LWL,* Jewish in a Winter Wonderland. She too is Jewish & loves "Christmas, in all its kitschy splendor." As the writer Cindy Chupack said:
So as I browsed past velvet monogrammed stockings and quilted tree skirts and pine wreaths and silver-plated picture frames that doubled as stocking holders (genius!), I said to myself, as much as to my husband: “This is why I sometimes wish I celebrated Christmas. Everything looks so cozy and inviting.” And much to my surprise, he said, “We can celebrate Christmas if you want.” And like a 12-year-old, I said, “We can?” And he said, “Sure.”* * * *
Still, even just considering the idea felt wrong and dirty and, well, totally exhilarating, like your first night away at college, when you realize you can stay out until dawn because nobody is waiting up for you. My husband and I were consenting adults. This was our house. Why couldn’t we celebrate whatever we wanted?
We decided we could, and proceeded to embrace the holiday in all of its materialistic glory. For example, I know it can be annoying to you Christmas veterans, but right now I love nothing more than hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while I’m shopping for stocking stuffers. I love stocking stuffers. I love having stockings to stuff. I love the fact that whole sections of many stores, from CVS to Neiman Marcus, have opened up to me. I love tinsel. It’s so simple, yet so elegant!
Because her partner doesn't do Christmas, we decided to do a little Christmas in the office. We decorated a little tree in the office & bought a wreath for our office door. Sorry Mandy, I'm with Julie on this one.
* Ladies Who Lunch (a/k/a my officemates)
Sunday, December 24, 2006
In Much More than a Minute, I mentioned that the son of an old friend from Scranton had been injured in Iraq.
The local Scranton paper, the Times-Tribune reports that he arrived home a few days before Christmas:
The 20-year-old Marine was shot in his Humvee by a sniper on Thanksgiving Day while serving near Fallujah, Iraq. After getting medical attention in Iraq, he was flown to a hospital in Germany before returning to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he is based with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. He will be home in Scranton with his family for 30 days.See ‘GRACE OF GOD’ HAS HERO HOME.
That's a Merry Christmas!
"The problems of this world are so gigantic that some are paralysed by their own uncertainty. Courage and wisdom are needed to reach out above this sense of helplessness. Desire for vengeance against deeds of hatred offers no solution. An eye for an eye makes the world blind. If we wish to choose the other path, we will have to search for ways to break the spiral of animosity. To fight evil one must also recognize one's own responsibility. The values for which we stand must be expressed in the way we think of, and how we deal with, our fellow humans."
Christmas Message 2001
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I have to admit that I when I read that only about half of the funds needed had been raised so far (see Update), that I started to worry that The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins was going west (to the Art-Mart Museum in Arkansas).
Then, late this afternoon (between our Solstice Luncheon, Christmas shopping and client matters) I saw the announcement that the Gross Clinic was staying in Philadelphia! The Inquirer reported in Gross Clinic to stay in Philadelphia that:
At a news conference today, Mayor Street announced that Thomas Eakins' masterpiece The Gross Clinic would remain in Philadelphia.Details are sparse at this point, but KYW adds:
The local fund-raising effort to buy the painting has received more than 2,000 contributions from more than 30 states, sources at the Philadelphia Museum of Art said. Among them were $10 million from Leonore Annenberg, and $3 million each from H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest, Joseph Neubauer, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts announced Thursday they will purchase the painting, thanks in part to a bank loan.Welcome to Phillyville put it best: We Win!!! As he said:
I did not think it was possible. Keeping the painting required Philadelphia to think big. To refuse to listen to the usual bunch of nabboring naybobs. But somehow, for some reason, we made like Sisyphus and rolled that rock up the hill one more time.Likewise, WHYY's The Gross Clinic Stays:
If museology ever rises to the level of mythology, that would be the day Philadelphia rises to a challenge like the one it has faced these past forty days and forty nights.
Today it was announced: the Eakins stays in Philadelphia, the place where it has the most significance, the most context, and the place where it (now) has the most friends.
Just one last thing. I hope that the Gross Clinic doesn't stay at Jeff. It deserves to have an Eakins Gallery without an Eakins -- to show how empty and hollow it is.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
As the Christmas spirit is upon us, this article by Dennis Rahkonen, While we celebrate the birth of Jesus, mass murder is being planned, should also be kept in mind:
Incredibly, the Bush administration is using a holiday season devoted to the Prince of Peace to prepare a bloodbath in Iraq.
Rather than comply with the American and Iraqi people's clear, polled desire for a swift end to the U.S. occupation, just the opposite will likely transpire.
According to widely reported accounts, the initial stage of a new American troop "surge" in Iraq will probably entail Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ouster, followed by a fierce attack on militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, some 60,000 fighters strong.
That militia, located mainly in Baghdad's teeming Sadr City slum, would be engaged not only with infantry, but by artillery fire and air attacks as well.
Ensuing civilian casualties would consequently be horrendously high.
* * * *
Despite almost everyone else on the planet wanting a prompt, total halt to America's occupation, Bush and his imperial-minded enablers are hell bent on staying in Iraq, for the selfish reason that there's so much money to be made by controlling „their‰ oil lying under Iraqi sand.
Never mind how many weeping mothers' precious children get blown to bits.
That their diabolical scheme couldn't possibly succeed is obvious.
It's only in animated cartoons that painting an exit door on a cul-de-sac's rock wall will allow a trapped character to escape impending doom.
We're not dealing with the Roadrunner, but George W. Bush, and he's completely delusional.
His fate can't be avoided. He's about to suffer a crushing defeat.
That's what happens when facts are ignored and a wayward President attempts to revive neo-colonial policy more than fifty years after the age of imperialism was ended by rebellious Third World people unwilling to remain forever oppressed.
Nothing can pull America's chestnuts out of burning Iraq's fire. History simply won't allow it.
That's why cutting our losses and withdrawing fully while we still can is the only option.We, the people, must make our peace sentiments absolutely and powerfully clear. . . . Do anything you can think of that's productive and nonviolent.
Just don't do nothing at all.
It's that time of the year. The tree is up, decorations are all around (but alas, no inflatables decking the lawn). As my daughter observed, the tree also looks familiar -- see Oh, Christmas Tree -- for last year's look. What can I say? I like big, full trees with lots of ornaments.
As an added treat, I've added an XMas Tree slide show album to my blog. What can I say? I love Christmas.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
WHYY's blog, The Sixth Square, reports that Philly's Mayor Street has dropped his efforts to designate Eakin's The Gross Clinic as an Historic Object. Noting in No "Historic Object" Nomination that:
A few weeks ago, Mayor John Street said he wanted to designate The Gross Clinic as an “historic object” using an untested and controversial ordinance. Today, we hear that the City has withdrawn that nomination, days before a debate scheduled at The Philadelphia Historical Commission.
What could this mean?
Could designation have required the painting to remain at Jefferson– making a move to another venue in Philadelphia downright illegal? Could it be that this announcement foreshadows another announcement that the painting is headed up the steps at Fairmount?
The latest update on fundraising from Art Museum, Keep Eakins, is that of the "$68 million [that] must be raised by December 26—donations to date total 40% of that goal."
The Philadelphia Inquirer has hinted that the fundraising goal may be close, in Mayor drops new 'Gross Clinic' status, adding:
Mayor Street has withdrawn his nomination of The Gross Clinic for designation as a protected historic object - just days before a deadline that would see Thomas Eakins' monumental painting leave the city following sale to two out-of-town museums.
* * * *
"Our understanding is that the fund-raising is really moving along," said Joe Grace, Street's spokesman. "The mayor wanted to remove designation as an issue."
"We want to allow folks to focus on fund-raising," he said.
"We are totally focused on the December deadline," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, director and chief executive of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "I'm optimistic. I can't really go into any more detail. Things are moving very fast."
With the deadline to keep The Gross Clinic in the city just five days away, almost half the $68 million needed to buy the painting has been raised, according to two Philadelphia Museum of Art board members.
Firm contributions now total about $30 million, they said.
Based upon the tenor of the last Inky article, I would have thought that they were further ahead. Hopefully they have a number of donations close to commitment stage or it will be Good bye to the Gross.
Monday, December 18, 2006
From NY Times to Rolling Stone, Paul Krugman delivers -- asking the question:
Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy. In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."In The Great Wealth Transfer, Krugman provides the answer:
Are people just ungrateful?
The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.
But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.
Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.
A merica has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.
But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.
* * * *
Under Bush, the economy has been growing at a reasonable pace for the past three years. But most Americans have failed to benefit from that growth. All indicators of the economic status of ordinary Americans -- poverty rates, family incomes, the number of people without health insurance -- show that most of us were worse off in 2005 than we were in 2000, and there's little reason to think that 2006 was much better.
So where did all the economic growth go? It went to a relative handful of people at the top. The earnings of the typical full-time worker, adjusted for inflation, have actually fallen since Bush took office. Pay for CEOs, meanwhile, has soared -- from 185 times that of average workers in 2003 to 279 times in 2005. And after-tax corporate profits have also skyrocketed, more than doubling since Bush took office. Those profits will eventually be reflected in dividends and capital gains, which accrue mainly to the very well-off: More than three-quarters of all stocks are owned by the richest ten percent of the population.
* * * *
It's worth noting that Bush doesn't simply favor the upper class: It's the upper-upper class he cares about. That became clear last fall, when the House and Senate passed rival tax-cutting bills. (What were they doing cutting taxes yet again in the face of a huge budget deficit and an expensive war? Never mind.) The Senate bill was devoted to providing relief to middle-class wage earners: According to the Tax Policy Center, two-thirds of the Senate tax cut would have gone to people with incomes of between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. Those making more than $1 million a year would have received only eight percent of the cut.
The House bill, by contrast, focused on extending tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. More than forty percent of the House cuts would have flowed to the $1 million-plus group; only thirty percent to the 100K to 500K taxpayers.
The White House favored the House bill -- and the final, reconciled measure wound up awarding a quarter of the benefits to America's millionaires. That, in a nutshell, is the politics of income inequality under Bush.
The article goes into depth describing the income inequalities that currently exist and how we are beginning to look a lot like a failed Latin American country. Krugman warns:
The United States doesn't have Third World levels of economic inequality -- yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society -- one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.
The Daily Show gives a touching farewell to the outgoing 109th do-nothing-Congress, including Pa's Senator Rick Santorum. The "where are they now?" part at the end is classic.
That's all Folks!
Sunday, December 17, 2006
With the release of the Iraq Study Group report, the question is whether the Bush Administration will heed its recommendations. Will Bush begin the withdrawal from the disaster that is Iraq or continue to "stay the course" (or whatever the phrase du jour is to describe our feckless Iraq policy)?
Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive opines in Bush Dawdles for a Reason:
With every day a wasting, with the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq now standing at 2,920 and climbing, Bush is dawdling.Can it be true? Would the Bush Administration ignore not only the view of most other countries, many of his Generals and the Iraq Study Group, but the will of the American people?
The decider can’t seem to decide what to do about Iraq.
He is too prideful, too headstrong, too macho, too ignorant, and too foolish to do the sensible thing, which happens to be what a majority of the American people want, and that’s to set a timetable for withdrawal and get out of there.
No, that’s not on Bush’s agenda.
He’s already torn up the fig leaf that James Baker gave him to exit stage right.
Bush is crazy enough to still think he can wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, when he’s just going to end up throwing more bodies into those bloody jaws.
My bet is that he’s postponed his big speech till after the holidays because he doesn’t want to dampen this season of cheer by announcing that he’s planning on upping the troop levels.
Only 12 percent of the American people are in favor of that, according to an LA Times/Bloomberg poll this week.
But Bush and Cheney don’t care what the American people want.
As Cheney said, right before the election, “It may not be popular with the public—it doesn’t matter.”
The hubris that Bush and Cheney exhibited on the way into Iraq will soon be on full display again as they drag this country deeper into the morass, against the wishes of the American people and against the wishes of the Iraqi people.
Of course it is. As Rothchild noted, Cheney said as much even before the election that that was widely viewed as a repudiation of the policies of the Republican Party. When discussing impact of the election on the war, Cheney remarked: "It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter….." See, Frankly My Dears, We Don't Give a Damn. So, the real question that has to be asked is:
So inquires Will Bunch of the Daily News asks, in The madness of King George: Are you going to take this sitting down?:
Are the American people really going to stand for this?
The will of the people is clear. In poll after poll, a plurality of voters have said that their No. 1 issue is Iraq, and back in November, they elected a Democratic Congress with a clear message that it was time for a new direction in the conflict.
The idea that a president could pursue a policy on the No. 1 issue facing that country that is only supported by 12 percent of the public, and vehemently opposed by most, is stunning. Consider the political landscape in 1968, when a majority of Americans turned against Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy, although not even by the overwhelming condemnation that Bush now faces. LBJ dropped out of the presidential race, halted bombing of North Vietnam and pursued peace talks -- all in the wake of a New Hampshire primary that he actually won, just not by an incumbent's expected margin.And the answer is?
I've been around long enough to see some really unpopular, or at least imperiled, presidents -- Nixon in Watergate, Jimmy Carter in the Iran hostage crisis, and the impeachment of Bill Clinton -- and to also see times of great risk, including Nixon placing American troops on full-alert (we learned years later) in the depths of his failed presidency. But we have never seen anything as potentially dangerous, or as so alien to the principles of American democracy, as the folly that President Bush is considering.* * * *How far can President Bush go in defying the will of the American people, let alone the Constitution, before people take it to the streets. And by that, I'm not talking about revolution, just lawful protest and assembly, showing the world that these reckless military actions will not stand, and showing fellow Americans also alarmed by what's going on inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue they are not alone.* * * *And what options are left? Impeachment, a process that takes months upon months, is unpopular with many Americans who don't like Bush, would surely not get at least 16 GOP Senate votes for removal and would result in President Dick Cheney if by some miracle it did? What's more, the issue at hand -- sending 20,000 more troops into the maelstrom of a mistake -- probably isn't illegal, just highly immoral and wrong. And the time is to stop it isn't months from now but right now, before it happens.
But is protest even possible anymore? So much has changed since the 1960s. Scientists will tell you that self-preservation is the greatest human motivating factor, and so the end of the draft and the creation of a volunteer military that draws heavily on poorer and more isolated communities for troops while sparing most elite communities has created a kind of natural barrier to 1960s-style protests.* * * *But now the madness of King George is descending to a new level.
And so one has to ask: Are the American people really going to take this sitting down? (Emphasis added)
While attending a tree trimming party last evening, this topic was part of a discussion that I had with a woman who is socially active in a number of good causes. After listing the litany of egregious policies inimical to our country implemented by the Bush Administration, we pondered the solution. Is protesting in the streets the answer? Impeachment? What will it take to correct the crash course that Bush has had us on for these 6 long years?
And the answer is?
Saturday, December 16, 2006
A Rumsfeld Christmas Song
Snowflakes roasting on an open fire,
Rummy's in his final throes,
Useless memos being fed to the pyre,
Hosannas sung by GI Joes.
Everybody knows the voters said you have to go,
Iraq has got to be made right,
Have a blast making fabulous dough,
I'm sure the Boards will love your spite.
We know that Gate's on his way,
He's got the exit strategy for which we've prayed.
All those in uniform will hardly cry,
They long ago saw past the 'oh goodness my.'
And so I'm firing this joyful shot,
At Rummy and his lousy crew,
We'll still uncover many crimes, many ways,
But the world is safer 'cause you're through.
We know that Gate's is on his way,
He's going to find the place in Rummy disarray,
The troops may be gung-ho but they are fried,
Let's hope and pray the Green Zone's days are equally nigh.
And so I offer up this borrowed phrase,
The military's black and blue,
You point your finger everywhere, every way,
The blame however falls on you.
By William M. Arkin of the Washington Post
Buck O'Neil, who spend a lifetime honoring the sport of baseball, never lived to see himself inducted into the baseball hall of fame, see Hall of Shame?
It's also a shame that he missed this honor, Buck O'Neil awarded Medal of Freedom
The Negro Leagues player, historian and advocate was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony, less than three months after he died at age 94.I'm only surprised that Rumsfeld didn't get one, like George Tenet and Tommy Franks (in 2004). Maybe next year.
O'Neil missed election to the Hall of Fame by one vote in February, yet never lost his enthusiasm for the sport.* * * *Sitting in the audience, Bob Kendrick, director of marketing for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said he felt "a little melancholy" wishing Buck was there.
"He would have lit that room up," Kendrick said. "He had this amazing charisma unlike anybody I've ever encountered. We know that his spirit was there and Warren represented his brother very well."* * * *
Kendrick said the honor "would have represented the pinnacle for him. He prided himself on being more than just a baseball player."
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
First there were the gun ornaments from Urban Outfitters hanging from the Christmas tree, see Trim a Tree, now it's the "Convert or Die" video game under the tree.
In 'Convert or die' game divides Christians Some ask Wal-Mart to drop Left Behind, the San Francisco Gate reports:
Liberal and progressive Christian groups say a new computer game in which players must either convert or kill non-Christians is the wrong gift to give this holiday season and that Wal-Mart, a major video game retailer, should yank it off its shelves.* * * *
The series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins is based on their interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation and takes place after the Rapture, when Jesus has taken his people to heaven and left nonbelievers behind to face the Antichrist.
Left Behind Games' president, Jeffrey Frichner, says the game actually is pacifist because players lose "spirit points" every time they gun down nonbelievers rather than convert them. They can earn spirit points again by having their character pray.
"You are fighting a defensive battle in the game," Frichner, whose previous company produced Bible software, said of combatting the Antichrist. "You are a sort of a freedom fighter."
* * * *
Clark Stevens, co-director of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, said the game is not peaceful or diplomatic.
"It's an incredibly violent video game," said Stevens. "Sure, there is no blood. (The dead just fade off the screen.) But you are mowing down your enemy with a gun. It pushes a message of religious intolerance. You can either play for the 'good side' by trying to convert nonbelievers to your side or join the Antichrist."
The Rev. Tim Simpson, a Jacksonville, Fla., Presbyterian minister and president of the Christian Alliance for Progress, added: "So, under the Christmas tree this year for little Johnny is this allegedly Christian video game teaching Johnny to hate and kill?"
Both groups formed in 2005 to protest what their 130,000 or so members feel is the growing political influence and hypocrisy of the religious right.
Just another way of promoting the true spirit of Christmas from the "ABC" (Anything But Christ-like) Christians.
Monday, December 11, 2006
In Santorum preps for future as pundit, lecturer, the Harrisburg Patriot News speculates on the future of Rick Santorum after he suffered the "largest defeat by a Senate incumbent in a quarter-century," adding:
Santorum, who lost to Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in last month's election, has been weighing offers. They range from appearing on Fox News Channel as an analyst to working for a law firm, according to several people who have spoken with the Pennsylvania Republican.
Santorum, one of the most vocal lawmakers for the last decade, has been nearly invisible in the last month as he weighs his options.
Santorum has been negotiating a cable deal, which political insiders say most likely is with Fox -- though MSNBC and CNN have been mentioned as well -- "to be a screamer," as one political operative put it.
"You could see that as a pretty easy transition for that guy," said one Republican State Committee official. "He likes to get up and speak."John Morgan (who is about as fond of Santorum as I am) of The Pennsylvania Progressive asks:
So Long Santorum, I think the perfect job would be as a lobbyist for Jesus, Inc. If that job isn't available, he would definitely do well as a "screamer" (you can listen to a rant here) on Fox.
I wonder which of his homes he'll be selling now. This will prove quite revealing. Will he move his family of eight back to the Penn Hills house he maintained was their real home? If so how will they fit all eight of them in three bedrooms and what to do with all the furniture from their Leesburg McMansion?
My bet is they'll sell the small house and remain in Virginia. With no legitimate reason to have to live there I bet they find it difficult to leave it and downsize back to Penn Hills. At last we'll know whether he considers Pennsylvania his home or Virginia.
This clip from The Daily Show is particularly special because it features the return of Ed Helms. Jon Stewart asks Helms where he's been, and notes that he hasn't come to work in months. Ed's answer is that he's been working undercover, operating out of a paper company located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Scranton is my hometown, see Welcome Back, and although I haven't lived there for over 30 years,you're never too far removed from Scranton, as this little quiz attests:
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Richard Pryor: White and Black People
See also this classic skit President Pryor, from the 1977 "The Richard Pryor Show". This show was the forerunner of "In Living Color" and "Chapelle's Show", but the program only aired four original episodes, due to Pryor's problems with network censors.
~ ~ ~
"It's been a struggle for me because I had a chance to be white and refused."
* Richard Pryor
(12/01/1940 – 12/10/2005)
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Yet another Eakins post.
It was this query from Attytood that got me thinking:
How come these rich donors rarely come out of the woodwork so quickly for any cause that involves education, or crime reduction? Just asking....A good question. Admittedly, I have been fairly vocal as an opponent of Jefferson's decision to sell the Eakin's The Gross Clinic to Art-Mart (otherwise known as Alice Walton).* See here, here, here and here.
One of my major objections is that this masterpiece should not leave Philly and the price of keeping it here is obscenely high, inflated by the obscene wealth of Walmart money, Values and The Gross Clinic. Jefferson had to take the easy way out to raise money for its expansion? How lazy is that?
There are so many other projects that warrant the time, effort & money that are now being diverted to try to save the painting that belongs in Philly, Eakins fund drive obscures others. And the depletion of scarce resources is not only in the cultural area, but education and other social services that will not receive this money.
Sister Mary Scullion explores this aspect of the issue, in What not to sacrifice for art: Care:
The civic uproar over the pending sale of Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic for $68 million raises complex questions about our society's priorities and values.See also, Where’s the money?.
The passion over where this painting goes is certainly understandable, but also a bit unsettling when so many Philadelphians cannot afford a home and when the loss of a child's life due to violence is barely noticed.
While we must affirm the importance of the arts in our community, we citizens must be mindful of human needs. . . . Today's issues, such as health care, homelessness, poverty and social services, are becoming distressingly low in our priority list.
Each day in our city, many people do without the basic necessities for themselves and their families. We are witnessing an alarming increase in the rate of poverty (currently at 25 percent), while the number of homeless people on our streets and in shelters is on the rise. Gun violence is rampant, claiming victims daily. And we face a serious crisis in public health. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians who are low-income, uninsured or aging struggle to get basic health care - and the numbers are growing.* * * *The controversy over this painting should not pit the arts against human needs. Rather, the best outcome is for Eakins' masterpiece to remain in Philadelphia, and for its presence to enlighten us to the necessity of investing in health care with an emphasis on those who are left behind.
More than a work of art is at stake. If we rise to the challenge of keeping The Gross Clinic in our city, yet fail to address serious issues such as health care, homelessness, poverty and social services, we will miss an opportunity to live out the values expressed by Eakins. Rather than being enriched by our struggle to retain a beloved work of art, we will be diminished by our failure to include the poor and the vulnerable in our vision for this city.
Of course, Attytood and Sister Scullion are absolutely correct. The educational system, for example, in Philly is atrocious. And crime? The level of violence in the streets of Philadelphia makes my heart cry. So why is there more passion exerted to save a painting than for other issues that are so compelling? I think it is because these other problems are so complex, so overwhelming that there is a sense that one can't make any impact in fixing them. How do you begin to fix the problems that plague the inner city schools? I don't have a clue.
On the other hand, the Eakins painting is a discrete issue that can be focused on and the solution is simple. Jefferson betrayed its alumni and the city by selling the painting, but it can be saved by raising a certain amount of money. Easy to complain about, not so easy to fix ($68 million in 45 days is daunting) -- but not impossible.
And what's more, all of the uproar has gotten results. The Inquirer reports, Jefferson plans to set up Eakins Legacy Fund:
Thomas Jefferson University officials have determined that proceeds from the controversial sale of Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic should be used to establish a permanent fund for scholarships and endowed faculty positions.So the public outcry has embarrassed Jefferson enough to at least make it do something good with the money it receives from the sale. And the public (or some extremely rich people in the community) have raised at least one-third of the money in 20 days. How much more has been raised since then is unknown, 18 Days: It's Bloody Time to Hear.
In an e-mail sent to the university community Friday, Jefferson president Robert Barchi said the record $68 million sale would create the Eakins Legacy Fund. The "corpus of this fund will never be spent," he wrote, and half the income generated would be regularly used for scholarships and endowed professorships.
The rest of the income, according to the e-mail, "will be used to support other key initiatives in the strategic plan, ranging from new faculty recruitment to classroom and laboratory renovations for new programs."
For more on the Eakins, see "Presidents And CEO’s Are Allowed To Have Bad Ideas Too" and What were they thinking?.
* I must admit, if the circumstances were different, I might actually admire Alice Walton. This piece about her, Despite royalty, a loyalty to roots, from the Centre Daily, portrays her as a maverick, as someone I would ordinarily like.
(Cartoon by Richard Anderson, from the Chestnut Hill Local)
Friday, December 08, 2006
Well, we don't have Rick Santorum to kick around anymore. And vice-versa.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, not surprisingly, Santorum managed to get a few last kicks as he left the Senate floor, Rick takes parting shots:
In a departing speech yesterday on an empty Senate floor, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum warned of the growing threat of what he calls "Islamic fascism."Wonkette offers a fond farewell, in A Gracious Good-bye: Rick Santorum's Last Insane Senate Speech:* * * *As he did in his campaign in a series of speeches throughout Pennsylvania, Santorum referred yesterday to what he said were multiple forces trying to undermine the United States as the "gathering storm" — a phrase that is also the title of Winston Churchill's memoir about the causes of World War II.
Like Peggy Noonan and several Pennsylvanians, we’re sorry to see Rick Santorum leave the Senate. (He’ll be back in town in a few weeks, as a lobbyist for Jesus, Inc.) Today he delivered his final piece of … oratory, yes, that’s what they call it. Let’s take a quick trip to Fearville, where Rick’s actually killing terrorists in Yemen or something, and Exxon’s directors want to kill us out of pure hate:But John Morgan of The Pennsylvania Progressive read my thoughts, stealing my words in Santorum's Swan Song:
* “I will do my best after I leave this place to continue to confront these enemies and to give the United States the opportunity to succeed in this war.”
* It is lunacy, it is suicidal to continue to allow the energy markets at the levels they are now given the fact that a vast majority of those energy dollars are going to people who want to kill us and destroy everything we believe in.”
Isn't that a great headline? "Santorum's Swan Song." Senator Man on Dog is no longer a United States Senator. The clock ran out on his legislative career with the end of this session. The bigot is finally out of public service, at least for now. Who am I going to kick around now? Where will I ever find a whipping boy the likes of Rick Santorum to provide fodder for the blog?My bet is that he'll be a lobbyist for Jesus, Inc., earning a big salary from the Evangelical Christians who can't spare a dime for the poor, but can spend it freely on bestowing riches on the Santorums of the world.
I'll survive somehow. The Republican Party seems gifted in providing new material....
I'll survive because getting rid of Rick Santorum was one of my life goals. He was right at the top of my list of public officials I most wanted to be rid of. . . . We won and yesterday Tricky Ricky took to the Senate floor for his farewell address.
He railed on for an hour warning the country, yet again, about the dire threat from "Islamic Fascism." Often chided for being one of the dumbest members of that august body this line of rhetoric displayed his intellectual shortcomings for all to see. There is no threat from "Islamic Fascism" because that's an impossibility. See fascism is the melding together of business and government. It means the corporations take control of government and use an intense sense of nationalism to impose their will.
A religion is neither a business nor a government. Islamic fundamentalism is the threat and it has nothing in common with fascism other than both are authoritarian.* * * *Maybe my favorite whipping boy will continue writing books about how he took their dead fetus home to show his kids or go onto the speaking circuit. I need him to keep mouthing off with these empty platitudes and ridiculous comments so I have something interesting to write about. Please Rick please, don't leave the public sector altogether. Bloggers everywhere have grown dependent on your warped mind for material.
TDS reports on the Iraq Study Group report and the reactions to it. Best is Tony Snow's reaction to David Gregory's questions.
Stewart: I need time to parse. Split hairs. See, right now you're not getting my top quality bullshit. It's not fair to you—the public I lie to...