Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is the sky falling? UPDATED

I'm not sure what to make of the current or impending economic crisis. There are a lot of strange things going on. For example, the original plan (from last week) was drafted by Bush and the appropriate Cabinet members. This is the plan that was somewhat modified over last weekend, and pushed strongly by the Democrats. So, a plan crafted by Bush, who most Democrats regard as slow and stupid, was brilliant enough that Pelosi pushed to pass it. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Apparently, there is quite a lot of blame that can be doled out here, on both sides of the aisle. Yet one of the most vociferous voices in the fight so far has been that of Barney Frank, founding member of the Lollipop Guild, and also quite obviously at the heart of why FannieMae and FreddieMac went belly up. What's up with that? Have you no shame, sir?

When the original plan came out, it needed to be passed urgently, or the sky would fall and dogs and cats would start living together. Yet, for some reason Harry Reid attached a rider about discontinuing drilling for shale oil. What did that have to do with the bailout? If the sky is really falling, why don't you act like it? This was the same Harry Reid who said "we don't know what to do" and called on McCain (not Obama) for leadership on the issue.

I'm not sure about McCain's trip to DC last week--stunt or theater? Of course he has been accused of politicizing the process, although there are widely conflicting reports about what happened at that White House meeting (the one that they had to drag Obama back to DC for). Yet prior to the crucial vote on the House floor yesterday, Pelosi found it prudent to belch up a partisan rant against the Republicans and the Bush Administration (right--the one that came up with the original plan). Not exactly the kind of sober leadership that one looks for when the sky is falling. And she wasn't even able to convince all of the members of her own party to vote for the package; 40% of House Dems voted against. 40%.

Here's what I don't understand: When Republicans have control of Congress, it is Republicans' fault for not passing legislation to stave off economic trouble. When Democrats have control of Congress, it is Republicans' fault for not passing the bailout.

I don't know what to think here about this mess. It's not about the failure of the free market, because FannieMae and FreddieMac being government sponsored entities (kind of like the Post Office) were anything but free. Does that mean there was too much regulation? Not necessarily. Too little regulation? Maybe. I don't think it's about regulation; I think it's more about the law of unintended consequences (trying to provide more home loans to minorities and poor folks pushed banks heavily into sub-prime lending). I don't think there has been enough strong leadership from either side (including McCain and Obama, the current leaders of their respective parties). The failed bailout plan has been described as a crap sandwich without the bread. Too much extra stuff, like prohibitions on shale oil drilling; like money going back to ACORN and other controversial entitities; like the Treasury Secretary not having to answer to anyone at all.

We can do better. They need to all get out of their political uniforms and hammer something out that doesn't screw the taxpayer (no one wants their money going to fund someone's golden parachute). They can do this; they have to.

After all, the sky is falling, right?

UPDATE:n As of about 11:30 AM, the Dow is up about 230 points. So even in the absence of the bailout bill that is imperative to keep Armageddon from happening, the markets are calming themselves, and, it seems, recovering. Huh?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sta uh way to Stawdom

This treasure I ran across from a link at MetaFilter. Jaw-dropping in its awfulness. I think I actually threw up a little when I saw it.

There are a few related videos up on YouTube. Proceed at your own peril.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some personal random stuff

We are planning on enjoying the weekend here at home in Rockettown. Our consulting chief building officer has provided me with several more feet of new bookshelves, so I can unpack a few more boxes. Anya's studio is going well; with the set-up and all of the space, she is "cranking out the canvasses" (art world slang, yes? I am SO COOL) and gearing up to maybe give some art classes. Very nice. Pics are of the new studio in action, one of which was taken by the only 4 year old photographer in the city.

My oldest daughter is now blogging; visit her blog and pick on her if you'd like.

Oh--we had an ultrasound earlier this week--the baby looks great, and construction appears to be right on schedule. Not able to definitively identify what type of plumbing is present, but some of what I saw made me think that it's a girl. We shall see . . .

And congratulations to Nika, who got her green belt in Tae Kwan Do tonight!

"Everybody was Kung Fu fightin'
Them cats was fast as lightnin' . . .
Carl Douglas, Kung Fu Fighting, 1974

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's the End Of The World As We Know It

. . . and Naomi Wolf is NOT feeling fine.

Seriously, this is one demented rant, prominently featured over at HuffPo.

In case you weren't sure, Palin represents the coming American police state. How do we know? Ms. Wolf has correctly intuited that Palin represents the continuation of the Rove-Cheney cabal (I thought it was the Bush-Rumsfeld cabal; whatever happened to the Bush-Cheney conspiracy, or was it the Cheney-Wolfowitz machination? the Haliburton-BigOil junta? wait--they're all the same . . .).

See, Ms. Wolf has formulated the 10 steps in the creation of a fascist state, and of course, this administration has already gotten all the way to like step 8 or 9. I mean, we already "invoked a terrifying internal and external enemy" (step 1; I guess we invoked them into flying planes into our skyscrapers), and certainly we've "developed a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens" (step 3; why they just arrested all the Democrats here in town last night).

Ms. Wolf is horrified to see that Palin is "embracing lawlessness" (translation: avoiding politically charged subpoenas) and using "Mafia tactics" (translation: firing political appointees). She was terrified when she
"saw that she was even styled by the same skillful stylist (neutral lipstick, matte makeup, dark colors) who turned Katharine Harris from a mall rat into a stateswoman and who styles all the women in the Bush orbit --but who does not bother to style Cindy McCain."
I am not sure of the significance of why Ms. McCain is left out, but I'm sure that it has to do with something truly EVIL.
"How, you may ask, can I assert this?" [Ms. Wolf stage-whispers through clenched teeth.]
Well, she sees "the unmistakable theatre of Rove's S and M imagery -- and you see stages eight, nine and ten of the steps to a dictatorship as I outlined them." She mentions people arrested at the RNC, "protesters charged as terrorists" (I thought they were arrested for vandalism) as an example of the embryonic police state (no mention of those arrested in Denver at the DNC). She seems awfully hung up on the sartorial aspects of our new overlords: "riot police wore the black S&M gear of the Rovian fantasy . . . phalanxes of men in black wearing balaclavas . . . St Paul police had dressed as protesters and, dressed in Black -- shades of the Blackshirts of 1920 . . ." I don't know; maybe it's all about the style.

In summary, McCain has a virulent form of skin cancer and Palin is the "talk-show hostess" who will oversee the incoming police state and the end of elections in this country, working for "Halliburton, KBR, Rove and Cheney . . . the same people who have plundered our treasure, are now holding the US economy hostage and who murdered four thousand brave young men and women in a way of choice and lies."

She even believes people have infiltrated her bank accounts, and are reading her email and stealing her kid's reports cards. Not to mention the chicken blood, and that goober dust spread all around her bed, and those funny little voices coming from the satellite TV.

No--I'm not kidding (except for the second sentence, I think). Sadly, neither is she.

It's like being handed a 12 page, single-spaced rant from that twitchy guy at the bus stop who's always muttering at passersby and snatching at cockroaches.

Ms. Wolf asks, "Am I trying to scare you? I am. I am trying to scare you to death . . . "

Oh, yes. Pretty scary stuff indeed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Biden's been praised for his superior intellect, and of course, his experience. But, DOOD, this guy's experience is supernatural!

He saw FDR on TV!

Honest! He even told Katie Couric:
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed," Biden told Couric. "He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"

We'll give him a pass on the Chuck Graham wheelchair incident. But, seeing FDR on TV must have been a truly special moment.

Can you imagine if McCain had said that? Or--gulp--silly Sarah Palin? What part of the internet would that NOT have been on?

Biden--even Quayler than Quayle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Michael Seitzman thinks you are.

Oh man--this stuff gets to me sometimes.

Mr. Seitzman really thinks that you are stupid if you are supporting McCain/Palin:
. . . if you are a McCain/Palin/Bush voter, you and I do not have a difference of opinion. We have a difference in brain power.

And if you loved the interview Palin did with ABC, well then:
You're an idiot. I mean that. This is not one of those cases where we're going to agree to disagree. . . you're mentally ill, mentally disabled, or mentally disturbed. What you are NOT is responsible, informed, curious, thoughtful, mature, educated, empathetic, or remotely serious. I mean it.

I knew it. I suspected it all along. My brain has failed me. We should probably just disenfranchise a large chunk of the population. Especially anyone that says "nucular," although it's okay if Jimmy Carter does it.

Who is this guy--an anonymous commenter lurking deep in the bowels of DailyKos? Maybe an MSNBC anchor? No--he's a regular columnist over at HuffingtonPost.com. And--he's smarter than you.

So let me see if I, a simple, unibrowed, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather gets this straight: this strategy is "Vote for Obama, you stupid bastards."

That'll work.

And in case you are wondering, I had my wife help me with the big words.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 images and a lost essay

I wasn't going to use a picture with this post, but as I wrote, I realized this picture needed to be here. Not a picture of the falling towers, or the hijackers, or Marines in Baghdad, or even an American flag. This picture--this very human picture.

I remember driving to work that morning, and one of the lead stories was about Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to play again in the NBA. I had two patients in labor, and I can recall rushing into an empty room to watch the TV reports after someone told me about a terrible plane crash in New York. I was back and forth between labor and delivery and the office all morning, trying to catch snippets of news, not quite comprehending what I was seeing on the TV. I remember telling one of my partners that he had to be wrong--the buildings hadn't fallen, that they were just obscured by all the smoke; even when I saw the replay of each tower collapsing horribly yet majestically, it was surreal--it was like a movie, or a strange dream. My patients delivered later in the afternoon, easily thank goodness, because I was finding it harder and harder to concentrate and focus. I slept poorly that night, and I think also for almost a week or so afterwards. It was difficult for me to wrap my brain around the enormity of what happened. The images were disturbingly compelling, like the cliche about watching a car wreck and not being able to avert your eyes.

I thought after awhile the impact would lessen, but at the one year anniversary, I ran across an essay that described the victims who jumped--how they streamed from every floor, how their clothes billowed out, some actually trying to parachute with curtains or articles of clothing. The most powerful part described how a man and a woman held hands as they stepped through the broken window. They held hands; such a simple everyday gesture, transformed into something so profound. What were they feeling and thinking?

Since then, I have tried in vain to find that essay again. I think the title was "Jump." I don't recall the author's name. I believe it ran in The American Scholar (published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society), but my Google attempts have come up empty. (Actually, not that empty. When I Google "Jump 9/11 essay," the first hit brings up the Wiki article on Ward Churchill's sickening 9/11 essay, in which he refers to the people working in the World Trade Center that day as "little Eichmanns.")

I realized the other night that the anniversary of 9/11 was again upon us when I noticed a number of cable programs devoted to the subject. I still can't watch them; if I do, I find myself very anxious and disturbed. I'll probably avoid the National Geographic channel and The Discovery Channel for a few days. I don't think I will ever be able to see that United 93 movie--ever. Yet, I am still drawn to those people and those pictures.

Tom Junod's Falling Man piece in Esquire is very moving and quite similar to what I remember reading in the "lost essay." It is about the picture at the top of this post, and who the people were who jumped that day, and in particular, the identity of the falling man. I enjoy Junod's writing immensely. He writes about our "resistance" to the images of 9/11, and how our society has tried to grasp the horror of that day. It is this line that really reached out to me:

The resistance to the image -- to the images -- started early, started immediately, started on the ground. A mother whispering to her distraught child a consoling lie: "Maybe they're just birds, honey."

I'm still resisting those images, I guess. Perhaps this one image is the best memorial to the victims of 9/11.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bridge to Gravina Island

I wonder how the people who work and live on Gravina Island feel when they are referred to as "Nowhere."

It's not like the bridge was going to dead-end in a field of caribou. The bridge would have connected the city of Ketchikan to its international airport, which is built on an island across the Inner Passage from the town; there is no road access at present, only a ferry. Pork? Yeah, probably, but really--is it any worse than this?


You know the story--Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. What's interesting is who else was for it. Yep--Obama and Biden both voted for funding for the project, and were against diverting its funds to Katrina relief.

Against Katrina relief? Wow.

McCain is on record as opposing the Bridge. At least Palin changed her mind on the earmark, something that the Democratic ticket couldn't do, even when given a second chance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some Russian stories

One of our first trips out of Krasnodar was to the Black Sea coast, near Divnomorskoye. It's a beautiful drive through the foothills of the Caucasus (kind of reminiscent of the Smokies), down to the sea. Misha, my father-in-law, brings his canoe with him whenever he goes, and enjoys paddling up and down the shoreline.

Now this is Russia, of course, and things aren't quite the same and as easy as they are here. You actually have to register the canoe with the local authorities (the equivalents of the Coast Guard and the police) in order to use it. So, Misha duly registers with the proper people, which has to be done on a daily basis; he actually called twice a day just to make sure. Very prepared, very smart man, my father-in-law.

Still . . . towards the end of the second day we are there, I look up from where I am sitting, enjoying the evening, and two guys, one in camo fatigues, the other in a police uniform, are purposefully strutting across the rocks towards us. I had a small shiver of fear, and even Anya tensed up a bit, but Misha is cool as a cucumber. They immediately start demanding to see his papers, and he quickly disarms them, with a laugh. He not only shows the appropriate documents, he whips out his cellphone, and asks them to call their boss, who he knows quite well and whose number he has in his phone. You could actually see these two roosters visibly deflate as they spoke with their superior, Misha joking and laughing with them all the while. After verifying that there were no threats to national security from the canoe, they scurried back across the beach. I asked Misha what had really changed from Soviet times; he replied, "Well, now you can actually own a canoe."

Basically, these guys were looking for bribes. If they can catch you without the proper papers and documentation, they can toss you in jail; of course, something can be worked out for the proper amount of roubles. Even if you have the right documents, if they're not properly filled out (i's dotted, t's crossed), well . . . And this isn't just at the beach--it's everywhere. Most people adapt, and adapt well. I think of Anya's parents as a particularly shining beacon of sanity in this country undergoing profound changes. You can rage against how things happen there, or you can adapt, and learn how to live within a flawed system.

There is money in Russia, at least in some parts. A lot of money. And everyone is grabbing for it. Is it wrong to want to make money? As a proud capitalist, I say of course not. But for the first time in almost 100 years, cash is flowing freely in Russia, and everyone wants their share. They grasp at it quickly, hungrily, as if it is going to dry up any moment and they need to get theirs before it all disappears. So there seems to be almost an underlying sense of desperation, almost a sense that things are tenuous, and could fall apart into chaos. I felt like I was at a raucous party, where the revelers were teetering on the edge of a dangerous drunk, and at the slightest provocation, a huge fistfight was going to erupt, dragging everyone one into it.

We were only about 120 miles from the Russian/Georgian border, although South Ossetia was about 300 miles away. I first heard of the conflict when a friend of Anya's mother stated that the Georgians (with American aid) had without provocation invaded Ossetia, and destroyed the city of Gori, including a city hospital. I was quite shocked, but didn't really have access to the news or internet. Of course, things weren't quite what we were told, as we found out a few days later. Almost a completely different story. I am not well-versed in the tribal divisions in the Caucasus (couldn't tell an Ossetian from an Abkhazi), but I thought this article (kind of long) has a pretty good summary of the historical background to the current conflict. It certainly doesn't paint the Russians in a good light, but I suspect it is more accurate than what was reported at the time in Krasnodar.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin hates teen moms!

I'm working on a Russian post, but first . . . this stuff bothers me.

We all know that Gov. Palin supposedly "slashed" funding for teenage pregnant moms in Alaska. Kind of goes along with her being against women's rights and all that. Heartless, cruel woman.

Well, that is simply not true.

As this post points out, there was no cut in funding at all for the local Covenant House; in fact there was an increase--yes, you read that right:

It turns out that $5 million is the highball request for Covenant House and the $3.9 million is what Palin felt the agency deserved. As it happens, the $3.9 million actually represented a three-fold increase over the previous year. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “slash” in the budget.

It has also been charged that Palin cut funding for "special needs" kids, by 62% according to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. Really?

This charge is based on looking at the budget for Alaska's Special Education Service Agency for 2007-2009. In fact, the December 2006 budget document that they cite would have been prepared by the outgoing administration — that of Republican Frank Murkowski, whom Palin defeated.

What's gone unmentioned is that the Palin signed into law a dramatic reform of the state's education financing system that equalizes aid to rural and urban districts, while significantly increasing funding for special needs students.

The reforms, in fact, increase spending for special needs children by 175 percent. As with the Covenant House, there was no “cut” or “slash.” There was a healthy increase.

Finally, this post contains a press release from the Executive Director of Covenant House Alaska. Read it for yourself, because I'm pretty sure you won't find it anywhere else, like the MSM, or DailyKos, or CrooksandLiars.

It just makes me wonder just how inaccurate are all the other smears about Palin.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Catching up

Sorry--it's been kind of hectic around here, so I haven't had a chance to post. The office was quite busy (yay!), so I've kind of had my hands full there. Hurricane Gustav has also wrenched things up a bit. We were all set to spend Labor Day weekend in New Orleans, but obviously that idea was quickly rethought. My mother is here with us, after making a rather tortuous journey last Saturday. At one point, she was actually aiming to evacuate to Covington or Pineville; fortunately, she came here, as neither one of those places fared that well. Word from N.O. is that her house is intact, but without power, so she will hang out here with us for a few more days. We had Biblical rains here, and a fair amount of wind the last 2 days. It is amazing to me how much power these storms are still carrying this far north.

I have to mention briefly Sarah Palin. I thought her speech last night was great; as a first "test," she did extremely well. There is a lot more ahead of her, though, and she will be under enormous pressure in the next 50 or so days. I think most people left and right agree that the attacks on her and her family have been ridiculous and contemptible. Some of the "charges" (more like rumors) are baseless. I keep hearing that she banned books in the Wasilla library, yet other than two unconfirmed lines in a Time magazine article, I can't find anything to back it up. Same thing with the creationist charge (see this for clarification). The other stuff--she's against women's rights (!!!), she's not really the mother of the Downs baby--is just absurd.

She's a political pick, no doubt; ALL, and I mean ALL, VP picks are (why do so many in the MSM find this one "insulting?"). But I think she is going to be a lot more popular and resonate with a lot more people than anyone thought. Is she up for the big job? That remains to be seen, perhaps, but at least at this point, I gotta agree with the following (from a commenter over at Althouse:

Given all the slime thrown at her over the last 5 days, I feel like I just watched one of those action films where the hero disappears in debris, smoke, and a roar, the music pauses, and the hero steps forward out of the smoke, samurai sword slung over his shoulder. The music swells.

Even better was this gem (same post):

From now on, when a Democrat says "But what if McCain drops dead on his first day in office?!?!?!" I'm going to say "dude -- don't tease me like that."

Hope to get to some Russia stuff over the weekend. My lovely, incredible wife has a few pics up. Enjoy!