Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The War on Christmas

Now this is possibly the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a long time, anything having to do with the Bush administration excepted, of course. Various right-wingnuts, led by Fox news screamers Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson, are claiming that liberals are waging a so-called war on Christmas. Their primary evidence seems to be the fact that some retailers are wishing their customers "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas," and holding "holiday sales" instead of "Christmas sales." Disturbingly, many middle-class religious folks (like the elder members of my own family) are buying into this nonsense. And nonsense it is.

There is no "war" on Christmas. No organization or group that anyone knows of is openly or covertly trying to eliminate Christmas as a national holiday or cultural event. None. Not the accursed ACLU, nor the United Nations, nor the Pagan Organization of Witchcraft Worshippers (POWW). Nobody.

The fact that some retailers choose to have their employees say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" is simply a matter of inclusion. In case some Christians may have forgotten, there are several other major holidays that fall in the same time frame as Christmas -- Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's Day, chief among them. Saying "happy holidays" is not only shorter than naming each holiday individually, it also has the benefit of being inclusive rather than exclusive. Nobody's trying to make saying "merry Christmas" illegal; it's just simple politeness to acknowledge everyone's religion instead of singling out one for special treatment.

I've always sent out Christmas cards that don't say "merry Christmas." I have several Jewish friends (and probably a few agnostic ones, as well), so wishing my friends "happy holidays" or "peace on earth" or something similar is a more sensitive way to express holiday greetings. I'm sure my Jewish friends wouldn't object to being wished "merry Christmas," but why deliberately mix up the religious messages? By sending out "peace on earth" cards, I'm not fighting any battles against Christmas or Christians or Christianity; I'm simply trying to be sensitive to my friends' beliefs.

The so-called Christians who think that they're being warred against obviously feel no similar sensitivity. It's a Christian nation, say they, thus we should embrace Christianity at the expense of all those annoying minority religions. This ignores the fact that this country was founded on the concept of freedom from an intolerant religious majority; the irony is quite obviously lost on today's holier-than-thou religious majority.

And the fact that Christianity is the majority religion shouldn't be ignored. That's why Christmas is such a big thing, no matter how much these supposedly put upon Christians may protest. Whether retailers call their December sales events Christmas sales or holiday sales is irrelevant; there aren't a lot of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts on display. The holiday sales are all about Christmas; you can't turn a page in the newspaper or go five minutes on radio or TV without being subjected to Christmas-this and Christmas-that. Just because a relative handful of retail employees are saying "happy holidays" doesn't negate the fact that the main holiday they're talking about is Christmas.

If these paranoid Christians think that they're somehow an oppressed minority, they need to take another look at things. Try observing the seasonal madness from the perspective of a Jew or a Muslim (or, God forbid, an atheist) and tell me again how society is ignoring Christmas. It's just not happening. December and November (and, increasingly, October and September) is the Christmas season; it's all-son-of-God, all-the-time, Christmas trees and carols and decorations 24/7 for almost a quarter of the year. Christmas is not in any danger of being eliminated. If there is a war going on, Christmas has the upper hand.

Now, if the disturbed Christians want a real fight, they should consider the war between the religious spirit of Christmas and its commercialism. That's a legitimate discussion to have -- and one war that the spirit of Christmas may be losing. Hell, if I were concerned about the real spirit of Christmas, I'd want fewer Christmas sales, all of which represent the hijacking of baby Jesus by commercial interests. If you want the purity of Christmas preserved, you should be arguing in favor of "happy holidays" so that "merry Christmas" doesn't get further corrupted.

But that's too nuanced an argument. It's much easier for the yellow journalists to cry that Christmas is endangered by the evil liberal agenda, whatever that is, and inflame their gullible followers to mindless action. Sure, they can pick out a few instances where political correctness has triumphed to an illogical extreme (and I'm no fan of political correctness), but random anecdotal evidence aside, the big picture tells us that Christmas is not under attack in any way, shape, or form. The Christian majority is in no danger of being subjected to the whims of the non-Christian minority. In this country, at this time, Jesus rules. And recognizing that other religions exist (and have their own important holidays) does not in any way diminish the importance of Christmas in our society.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The last refuge of bigotry

The Indianapolis City-County Council is planning to vote on a gay rights ordinance next week. The ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and it's proving to be perhaps the most controversial issue faced by the Council over the past few years.

That's right, the City-County Council is being inundated by phone calls, letters, and email from Hoosiers opposed to the ordinance. These are people who are in favor of discriminating against gays. Yay, discrimination!

(Which begs the issue -- who taught these Neanderthals how to use computers and email?)

Over the past century we've successfully fought to abolish discrimination against most minorities, including blacks and women. While pockets of racism and sexism still exist, it's now basically accepted in our society that it's not okay to discriminate based on race or sex. Discrimination is bad -- except when it comes to homos. Then it's okay to screw the queers, so to speak.

I'm not gay, nor am I black or a woman, but I'm still offended by any type of discrimination. It's the 21st century here; haven't we gotten past all this? All the City-County Council wants to do is make it illegal for a business not to hire someone because he or she is homosexual. What's the harm in that? It doesn't want to force people to become gay, as if that were possible. What's wrong with a little tolerance?

It's the virulence of the reaction that shocks me, particularly among so-called Christians and those espousing "family values." Family values, my ass. These ignorant bigots are afraid of anyone and anything that is different from them, and want to remake civilized society in their narrowminded image. This is not progress. It is a path away from enlightenment.

I try to be tolerant about most things, as we all should, but I'm becoming increasingly intolerant of intolerance. These hateful, deceitful social conservatives need to be defeated. They're afraid that society is passing them by, and they're right. They want to return society to the dark ages, and society doesn't want to go there.

As intelligent creatures, we should be better than that. We should accept people for what they are, no matter what their color, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. Legalizing discrimination against gays is just one step away from re-embracing prejudice against blacks, women, and Jews. We can't allow this vocal minority to gain control over what I believe is an increasingly tolerant majority.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to talk about gay rights or women's rights or African-American rights. But in this less-than-ideal world, we still have to deal with hate and prejudice. Let's not let ignorance define our society. We should ban all forms of discrimination, and work towards wiping out hate and prejudice in all forms. Yeah, I'm for passing the anti-discrimination ordinance -- and for standing up to the small-minded bigots who oppose it.

And that's not just my opinion; no reasonable mind would disagree.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Top five Christmas albums

And now, just in time for the holiday season, is a list of my top five personal favorite Christmas albums. So, without further ado...

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

Not just my favorite Christmas album, but also one of my favorite albums of all time -- always in my top five, and this time of year my number-one. This album features all of Spector's early Wall of Sound artists performing Christmas favorites: Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. What makes this album so great is that it captures these performers and the stellar team of L.A. studio musicians who backed them at the very peak of the powers. It's sheer joy to listen to Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Steve Douglas, and all the rest of the Wrecking Crew barrel their way masterfully through these Christmas classics. And the one original tune of the bunch, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," has become a classic; Darlene Love and the crew give it perhaps the best performance on the album. I listen to this album all year long, and it should be a must-have for everyone over the holidays.

Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas

A real sentimental favorite, but justified. I can't believe that this year is the 40th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas -- I remember watching it as a kid, just as if it were yesterday. (I was seven at the time.) A great special, based on a great comic strip, with equally great music. The choice of Vince Guaraldi's cool jazz stylings was inspired; dig the hip takes on timeless tunes like "O Tannenbaum" and the terrific original tunes "Christmas Time is Here" and (of course) "Linus and Lucy." This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Another soundtrack from a great television Christmas special, this one from the 1970s. The Muppet Christmas special doesn't get repeated every year like the Charlie Brown one, but it should. There's fun stuff here ("Little Saint Nick" by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem) as well as touching performances (Kermit the Frog singing "The Christmas Wish," and Rowlf the Dog's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") -- and John Denver sings some, too. If you can, search out eBay for the original 13-song Windstar release, instead of the current 10-song Laserlight re-release. For some reason, rights were lost to three of the tunes from the original -- "Little Saint Nick," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "When the River Meets the Sea" -- which really removes the heart from this excellent little collection.

The Roches: We Three Kings

I love the Roches, ever since I caught them on their first performance on Saturday Night Live back in the late '70s. In fact, my favorite all-time concert was a performance by the Roches at a small club in Bloomington, Indiana, in the mid-'80s. How can you not like their warm but quirky harmonies, and off-kilter sense of humor? Okay, so Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy are an acquired taste -- but if you've acquired it, you'll really appreciate their Christmas album. There's beautiful singing here, and no small amount of quirky humor. (My favorite -- the Brooklynesque accents and attitudes on "Frosty the Snowman.") Yeah, it's a "non-traditional" Christmas album, but sometimes the non-traditional becomes a tradition.

Mel Torme: Christmas Songs

What better way to end my Top Five list than with my favorite male singer of all time, the Velvet Fog, performing smooth and classy versions of traditional Christmas carols. The standout here, as you might suspect, is Mel's very own "The Christmas Song" -- although there are other standouts, including Mel's version of "Christmas Time is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Yeah, Charlie Brown again.) Put this one on the old turntable (or CD player) and sit in front of an open fire for a very relaxing holiday evening.

And five honorable mentions...
The top four albums on this list are always there, but on any given day the Mel Torme CD can be replaced with Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (almost as good as Mel's album), Mitch Miller's Holiday Sing Along with Mitch (an old family favorite), Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song, Bing Crosby's White Christmas, or Patty Loveless' Bluegrass & White Snow: A Mountain Christmas (a surprisingly effective traditional country approach). In any case, now is the time of year to check out all these great albums -- and load up the CD changer with the sounds of the holidays!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


My little community of Carmel, Indiana, just passed a no-smoking ordinance, very similar to the one recently passed in the big city of Indianapolis, just next door. This is a good thing, although the ordinance itself is a little on the weenie side. (It still allows smoking in bars and taverns that don't serve patrons under 18 -- a major lapse, IMHO.)

It's about time Indiana got on board the no-smoking bandwagon. I love traveling to California and Minnesota, both of which are big no-smoking states. I hate coming back home to Indiana, which is pretty much a mandatory smoking state. (If you got 'em, smoke 'em -- and if you don't got 'em, go buy some.) I get off the plane, pick up my luggage, and walk outside to the shuttle bus area where a dozen people are lighting up. The folks around here just can't put enough nicotine and tar into their lungs. Look at the statistics, and you find that Indiana is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation -- we smoke, we eat too much, and we exercise too little. Hoosiers are just a bunch of fat, uneducated, smoke-spewing pigs. That's the generalization, at least.

When I visit CA and MN, I can go into any restaurant or bar and not be overcome with smoke fumes. I can spend a nice evening eating and drinking, and not come home with my clothes reeking of stale tobacco. Not so in IN; the dense clouds of smoke in most entertainment establishments keeps me away. I'd like to think I'd go out more if I didn't have to deal with effects of second-hand smoke. (But then again, I'm middle-aged now, and I don't get out as much as I used to for lots of other reasons.)

So banning smoking from most public places pleases me. It doesn't go far enough, though. What the new ordinance does is remove the smoking section from my local Applebees, but doesn't do a thing for the bar down the block. Oh well; baby steps, and all that.

I used to have a bit of trouble reconciling my semi-libertarian leanings with my desire to ban smoking in public places. After all, I'm generally for less government regulation of personal behavior. I don't want the government telling me what I can or cannot do to my own body; I believe that the government (or church or whoever) has no business poking their nose into my bedroom; and I think that most drug laws are arcane and unwarranted. (Yeah, I'm for more drug legalization -- although, thanks, all you crystal meth users, for forcing my friendly pharmacist to display my favorite cold medicines behind the counter. I really appreciate the inconvenience.) So how do I get off arguing for more governmental control over voluntary behavior?

It's simple, really. The best of laws exist to protect us not from ourselves, but from others. What you do to your own body (in private, anyway) is no business of mine. But when what you do infringes on my rights, then regulation is necessary. So smoking in the privacy of your own home, fine. Smoking in public, where you force me to breathe your noxious fumes, not so much. No one is telling anyone that they can't smoke; the no-smoking ordinance simply says you can't smoke in places where it infringes on others' right to breathe.

One can, of course, take this sort of thinking to an illogical extreme. Should we outlaw farting in public, or bad breath? Arguments could be made for both, but now we're getting silly. As far as I know, farts aren't life-threatening. (Well, most farts aren't...) But cigarette smoke is. That's where you draw the line.

What I really can't understand is why anyone my age or younger takes up smoking in the first place. Since the mid-1960s, at least, the dangers of smoking have been well-publicized. Older generations might not have known the dangers, but my generation certainly does -- or should. So why take up what is at best a filthy habit, and at worst a life-threatening one?

I don't know the answer to that. It's easy to think that's its a social thing, with more low-income smokers than high-income ones. But I know more than a few intelligent, educated professionals who smoke, and there's no good reason for it. If we really wanted to get serious about healthcare in this country, we'd actually have a debate about outlawing cigarettes altogether. Less-deadly substances are illegal, after all.

But I'm for less government regulation, not more, and making cigarettes illegal rubs me the wrong way. I don't think people should smoke them, but I'm not about to argue for abolishing them. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, after all; there's no reason to think it would work for tobacco, either. So let's keep the filthy things legal, but limit their use in public places. We'll all be better for it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Good guys and bad guys

Like most folks, my concept of right and wrong was established at an early age. While I know the world isn't black and white, I still believe that it's easy to tell between right and wrong -- to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

My concept of how the good guys act was influenced by comic books and television. In comic books, there were Superman and Batman, defending the little guys from the evildoers. On television, it was Superman again (the George Reeves version) and the Lone Ranger, again doing their best to look out for the little guy. What I learned from these characters was that good guys never hit (or shot, in the case of the Lone Ranger) first. They waited for the bad guys to make their move, then they reacted. And they never killed, only wounded. (The Lone Ranger shot a lot of bad guys in the hand.) The good guys didn't think much of big business or big government, they were there to protect the rights of the individual. They didn't beat up innocent people or torture them or behave in any way less than Boy Scoutish. Heck, they didn't even swear.

My concept of how the bad guys act was influenced by the times, which in my case was the Cold War. The bad guys were the Communists, and they did nasty things. The bad-guy Communists banned books and tried to control the activities and thoughts of their citizens. Their secret police spied on their citizens, and arrested them in the dead of night with no cause or warrant. The bad guys tortured people, and sent them to waste away in frozen gulags. The bad guys invaded other countries with no provocation, grinding their freedom under the boot heel of oppression.

In the world I grew up in, it was clear who the good guys and the bad guys were. The good guys were for openness and freedom , and the bad guys were for secrecy and oppression. It was the good guys' job to stop the bad guys wherever they could, but in the good guy fashion; the good guys never used the methods of the bad guys.

To my chagrin, the world today is different. Americans are supposed to be good guys, but we're acting just like bad guys. That doesn't make the real bad guys any less bad, but it does make us that much less good.

In today's world, America invades other countries without any provocation. Even if you believed all the pre-war hype about WMD (and not everyone did), there was still little or no reason to believe that Iraq was on the verge of attacking the U.S. -- or any other country, for that matter. America invaded a country that posed no immediate danger to us. Good guys don't shoot first, but that's just what we did in Iraq.

In today's world, American police can arrest anyone they want, merely by calling them a terrorist. There is no due process. After 9/11, the government locked up hundreds of innocent citizens, deprived them of legal council, and resisted all attempts to either free them or formally charge them. I'm not talking about the Guantanamo detainees; I'm talking about honest, hardworking American citizens, most of Middle Eastern descent, who were swept up in the net of fear. Good guys don't have secret police who arrest people in the middle of the night, but that's exactly what the Bush administration did.

In today's world, American troops can take prisoners in a so-called war, spirit them away to camps in other countries, and detain them indefinitely. These prisoners, held in Guantanamo and in secret camps across the globe, are held in a kind of legal limbo. They're denied prisoner of war status, yet not charged with any domestic crime. They have no hope of release, only a dismal future in these American-run gulags. Good guys don't condemn prisoners to gulags, but that's what the American government continues to do.

In today's world, American troops and agents torture and kill their prisoners. There are no rules, except for those the administration argues to ignore. The Geneva conventions are not followed; military personnel are implicitly if not explicitly ordered to use torture as an interrogation device. Good guys don't torture and kill, but that's what we as Americans are allowing to happen in Iraq and elsewhere.

In today's world, Americans are no longer the good guys. It wasn't 9/11, but rather the Bush administration that turned the world on its head and turned Americans -- all Americans -- into bad guys. We should know right from wrong, and today we are in the wrong. For this, we have George Bush and his cadre of hardliners to thank.

Superman and the Lone Ranger would be ashamed; indeed, they would find us to be the bad guys that need protecting against. How much longer will basically decent Americans continue to support this wrongful behavior? How much longer before the architects of our moral downfall are impeached and tried as the criminals that they are?

I still believe in right and wrong, in good guys and bad guys. And I'm tired of being one of the bad guys.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Born to Run

It's hard to believe that it was thirty years ago that Bruce Springsteen released his classic Born to Run album. Not only doesn't it feel like it's been thirty years, the album doesn't sound dated at all. But that's the mark of a classic; it doesn't get older, it just gets better.

To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the album, Sony (the current owners of Columbia, the original label) has re-released the album as part of a three-disc set. The album itself is one of the discs, a remastered CD that sounds noticeably but not significantly better than the original pressing. (It's not the most impressive remaster I've ever encountered, to be honest, but it still sounds damned good.) The other two discs are DVDs, one a particularly interesting documentary of the making of the album, the other a rare, long-thought-lost Springsteen concert from October 1975.

As good as the CD is, and as interesting as the documentary is, the real gem is the concert disc; it captures the band in their first non-U.S. appearance (at Hammersmith Odeon, in London), in what is truly a legendary performance. It's here where the E Street Band really started to gel, with Miami Steve, Max Weinberg, and Roy Bittan all just recently having joined the band. Springsteen and company felt like they had something to prove to the jaded British critics (and to live up to some of the pre-concert hype), and they did. The band starts off a little tentative, but soon enough catches fire and rips the roof off the joint. When people say a performance is legendary, this is what they mean, and we're fortunate that it was captured in its entirety. I've seen many other Springsteen concerts over the years, but this one is by far the most dynamic and moving. My previous favorite concert movie was The Band's The Last Waltz, but this one goes immediately to the front of the pack.

I'm embarrassed to say that in August of 1975, when Born to Run was first released, I was totally unaware of the album and the artist, in spite of the dual newsweekly covers. I didn't get turned on to Springsteen until the 1978 release of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and then worked backwards through the catalog. (That's right, I discovered Elvis Costello before I discovered Springsteen -- a definite chronological error.) I don't know how I avoided Born to Run back in 1975, but it wasn't just me; none of my musically-inclined friends noticed it, either. Maybe I was too much of a jazz and jazz-rock snob at the time, I don't know. But it passed right by me, and I was the less for it.

In August of 1975 I was getting ready to start my senior year in high school. I had just broken up with my girlfriend of the past year (or, more accurately, she had just broken up with me), and I was more than eager to get through my final year and get on to college. My senior year was not my best year; I was bored and missed my older friends who'd graduated the year before. Yeah, I owned the joint, but I didn't care about it anymore. The place had changed, and it just wasn't as much fun. I wanted to get out and move on.

I could have done with a little Springsteen at that point in time. I definitely would have identified with "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" just as much, if not more so, than I did three years later. Springsteen painted such vivid pictures of loss and longing, it tore your heart out. His music on Born to Run was operatic, fusing the best of all that rock and roll had offered up to that point. When I listen to "Thunder Road" today, I still want to grab my Mary with her waving dress and race as fast as I can out of this town full of losers. "Jungleland" still stuns me with its stark tale of dime-store hope and despair -- "The poets down here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be." Born to Run was Dylan fused with Phil Spector, with a little Roy Orbison thrown into the mix, like nothing before and nothing since.

And, as great as the album was, Springsteen's live performances were even better. Oh, what I'd give to go back and time and catch the E Street Band on that Born to Run tour. In fact, if I had a time machine, I wouldn't use it for the normal stuff, to go back and look at the dinosaurs, or see what Jesus was really like, or to try and stop JFK's assassination. No, I'd use my time machine to let me capture the legendary performances of my lifetime, and before. I'd go back to 1975 to see Springsteen and the E Street Band, and to 1964 to see the Beatles' first American tour, and to 1963 to hear Dylan at Newport, and to 1959 to catch Miles Davis at the Blue Note, and to 1956 to see a young Julie Andrews come into her own in My Fair Lady, and back even further to see Fred Astaire dancing on Broadway, and on and on and on. Some of these performances are captured on film and video, some on vinyl and CD, but it's not the same as being there. That's what I'd use my time machine for, to catch the magic.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, November 11, 2005

There was much rejoicing

The Washington Post reports today that Sony has backed off from its CD copy protection scheme -- you know, the one that installed malware on your PC, wouldn't let you copy the CD to an iPod, and limited CD-to-PC rip quality to a measly 128 Kbps. Seems Sony didn't like the bad press. Awww, I feel for them. Those rat bastards.

It's time that honest consumers stood up for their rights against these greedy fat cat record labels. The labels obviously don't care about their customers or their clients (the recording artists), they only care about the bottom line -- and only then in the short term. So maybe they cut back a teensy-weensy little bit on copying with this DRM scheme (and that's quite arguable), while in the long run they drive more and more formerly paying customers away. When you combine greed with stupidity, that's what you get.

The record labels blame music downloads and CD copying for all their woes. But study after study has failed to prove that downloads and copying affect CD sales one iota. Here's what's really happening. CDs cost too much (should a 60-minute music CD really be priced higher than a two-hour movie DVD?), and the music they're putting out sucks. It also doesn't help that the Clear Channels of the world so rule the radio waves that (1) there's very little opportunity for potential CD buyers to hear new music and (2) the market is so scattered among subgenres that there's little or no chance for a true mass market hit anymore.

So the labels are crying the blues over declining sales, and trying to make up for it by suing their customers, infecting their PCs with worms, and restricting the use of the products they sell. Yeah, that's smart business. I do not feel their pain.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fearless predictions

I haven't commented much on political events since Harriet Miers' withdrawal, Judge Alito's nomination, and Scooter Libby's indictment. I've had enough fun just sitting back and watching the Bush administration implode.

Here's the thing -- power corrupts. And the Bushies had a lot of power, more than any administration in recent history. Is it any surprise, then, that the Bush administration is being found out as the most corrupt since Warren G. Harding? The more power these guys got, the more corrupt they became -- and the more blatantly they tried to protect that power. The whole Plame case is all about punishing their enemies, and will (as I predicted long ago) result in their eventual downfall.

That said, here are my predictions for how various events play out.

On the Alito nomination, I don't have a clue. (How's that for a prediction?) He's quite obviously a corporate lackey (much like Roberts before him) and also a bit of a conservative wingnut. But he's also an intelligent and experienced jurist with a keen legal mind, unlike the previous nominee for the post. How the Senate breaks on him depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is how much control the White House still has over the Republican legislators. Okay, I'll go out on a limb and say it ends up 52-48 against, but I'm not very confident of the odds; it could very well go 52-48 for.

On the Plamegate front, I see this getting really interesting, and resulting in a wholesale shakeup in the West Wing. As Scooter's case moves towards open court, we'll find out more about Dick Cheney's role in all this -- that is, we'll discover (or at least have it strongly hinted) that Cheney masterminded the whole thing. It's beyond consideration that Cheney's right-hand man would have done everything he did totally on his own, without the knowledge if not explicit direction of his boss. As the fickle finger of fate starts pointing at the big Dick, I see Cheney resigning as VP, probably sometime late in 2006 or early 2007. For medical reasons, of course. (Nudge, nudge.) Whether Rove leaves or not depends purely on whether Turd Blossom decides to take one for the team and tender his resignation; Bush will never fire him.

Cheney's resignation will free up Bush to appoint his designated successor as the new VP. It won't be McCain or Giuliani; my primary bet is on Romney or Allen, with a side bet on George's brother Jeb. Yeah, Bush could be that dumb. But either Romney or Allen would be a smarter choice, all things said and done.

As to the 2006 elections, I see a Democratic sweep, big enough to regain control of the Senate and maybe big enough to take back the House, as well. When this happens, the floodgates open -- and Bush had better hunker down. We'll finally see aggressive investigations into everything that's happened in the past five years, quite possibly leading to impeachment proceedings.

Bottom line, the good times are over for the Bush boys. The final years of his second term will be rough ones, indeed.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, November 04, 2005

More on Sony's CD copy protection

Those rat bastards at Sony have been taking a ton of flack this week for their malware-infected CD copy protection scheme. Seems as if that installer program that prohibits copying their CDs to iPods or ripping to a PC at anything more than 128 Kbps also installs a spyware-type program on your PC. You know, the type of program that hides its existence, is impossible to remove, and can potentially be hijacked by malicious hackers. Gotta love Sony for this likely criminal infringement of their customer's rights. Not only do they not want their customers to actually use their products, they want to invade their customers' privacy and possibly damage their computers, as well. Way to go, Sony rat bastards!

Sony, of course, remains clueless. Their sole response to this controversy was to announce a patch to the malware program to reduce the hacker hijack threat. Boy oh boy, am I happy now. What a bunch of insensitive fucks.

That said, I did stumble upon a way to successfully rip the audio files from Sony's copy protected CDs. What you have to do is insert the CD into your PC without letting the autorun program run, so that you don't install the malware program. (Difficult, but doable.) Then you access the CD as you would any data CD, and use a program called CDex to extract the audio files. CDex can rip files in either MP3 or WAV format (WAV for me, thank you), and it works just fine on the Burt Bacharach CD I recently purchased (and subsequently returned -- post CDex-ing, of course). It's too much work to get the full value out of these CDs, of course, but it's good to know there's a technological solution to this particular issue.

The rat bastards at Sony who thought up this scheme should be fired. And the consuming public should boycott Sony's CDs until this problem is resolved. This situation demands nothing less than a full recall of the suspect products, replacing them in the marketplace with non-copy protected, non-malware infected versions, and fully refunding customers' money or replacing the bad CDs with good ones. An acknowledgment of their stupidity would also be nice, as would an apology.

Oh, and how did Burt's new CD sound? Okay, but definitely not his best work. I was particularly disappointed in the pedestrian arrangements, relying too heavily on drum loops and cheap synthesizers instead of the full orchestra that Burt should be working with. And, of course, Burt is not a great singer, nor is he as talented a lyricist as his former partner, Hal David. Worth a listen, but not worth dealing with Sony's copy protection to hear.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bad Bacharach: Sony's copy protection strikes again

I'm a Burt Bacharach fan. More than a fan. A student. I've studied his music extensively, and not only appreciate his compositions but understand them. I consider Bacharach one of the top composers of the 20th century.

This is why I was very much looking forward to Burt's new CD, At This Time, his first batch of all-new compositions in many a year. Unfortunately, the CD I received was encoded with Sony's brand spanking new copy protection scheme, which makes the disc totally unlistenable to my ears. The CD is being returned, and I don't get to hear Burt's new music. To say that I'm pissed off is an understatement.

Let me explain.

I rip all of my CDs to the hard drive on my Media Center PC, and then listen to my music digitally through an extremely high fidelity audio system in my living room. Every other CD in my collection ripped just fine, and I save the files in WMA Lossless format, which has an effective bit rate of 700 Kbps or so -- the same quality as the original files on the CD. But this Sony copy protection scheme messes with all that. First, you can't just rip the CD, you to run the little program on the CD and let it copy the files to the hard drive for you. Then, it copies the files in regular WMA format (not WMA Lossless) at a miserable 128 Kbps. Not acceptable! Maybe that's good enough for use with an iPod, but the sound quality is so poor as to be unlistenable over a quality audio system.

Why should I have to pay full price for a CD that, when played on my expensive Media Center PC-based system, offers significantly inferior sound quality? Why would any consumer put up with this bullshit? Just what are those rat bastards at Sony trying to do, anyway -- totally alienate their customers?

I'm doubly pissed off because I so wanted to listen to this album, and because Burt Bacharach albums (dating back to the legendary Casino Royale soundtrack) are usually a sonic treat -- not just great music, but extremely well-recorded music. I simply can't listen to this music presented in sub-FM quality. I'm not pissed at Burt, but rather at Sony. I vow never to buy another Sony CD again, until they reverse this policy of sonically crippling their new releases. (And I fault Amazon, to some degree, for not noting the copy protection in their item listing.)

So fuck you, Sony rat bastards. Cut the crap and give us consumers all the music we pay for -- with no restrictions!

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I love Ace Records

I'm always searching out new labels for old music -- record companies that specialize in hard-to-find or high-quality reissues of classic music. Rhino Records is a long-time fave, of course (latest purchases: the Girl Group Sounds boxed set and a limited-edition rerelease of Melanie's 1976 Photograph album), as is Wounded Bird Records. But my new discovery is Ace Records, a British reissue label. Not that they reissue British records (although they probably do); what I'm getting into are their reissues of classic American soul and girl group recordings.

On the soul front, Ace has a particular fondness for northern soul, in the form of various compilations: The Mirwood Soul Story, Shrine: The Rarest Soul Label (Vols. 1-2), Rare, Collectible and Soulful (Vols. 1-2), Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, OKeh: A Northern Soul Obsession (Vols. 1-2), and New York Soul Serenade. Ace is also big on southern soul, straight soul, R&B, funk, and related genres, with a fondness for the obscure.

When it comes to the girl group sound, Ace is also big on the obscure. Their compilations move quite swiftly from well-known artists to little-known or "lost" recordings by a variety of one-hit (or no-hit) wonders. But, boy, are these great compilations. If the Rhino Girl Group Sounds box is a great place to start (and probably more than enough for the casual listener), Ace takes the exploration several steps further. I'm not sure that some of the artists included ever got heard outside of their immediate neighborhoods. Where Ace dug this stuff up is beyond me, but I'm glad they did. If you're into girl groups, you have to check out Ace's Where the Girls Are (Vols. 1-6) and Early Girls (Vols. 1-4) compilations, as well as their one-offs Boy Trouble: Garpax Girls, Playin' Hard to Get: West Coast Girls, Kiss 'n' Tell, Queens of King, and Girls with Guitars discs. There's good -- and very rare -- stuff here.

Ace also covers other genres -- folk, blues, doo wop, early rock 'n' roll, you name. Sound quality is generally pretty good, not quite up to Rhino standards, but still. Liner notes are extensive, although with a bit of a British spin. All in all, this is a small label definitely worth checking out. They're doing all of us classic music lovers a huge favor by bringing all this forgotten music to light.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Good reads

The past few weeks have seen a bevy of new books by some of my favorite authors. Here are some quick comments.

School Days is the latest in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, and it may be the best Spenser book in fifteen or more years. In this one Spenser's lady friend Susan is away at a convention and Hawk is off doing who knows ahat, so Spenser is on his own for a change. By paring away the supporting characters (who we all know and love, but -- let's face it -- have become a bit of a crutch in recent books), Parker brings Spenser closer to the way he was written in the early books in the series. The plot also echoes earlier books like God Save the Child and Ceremony, in that Spenser's case takes him to a small-town high school -- in this case, to investigate the aftermath of a Columbine-like school shooting. The plot has an actual mystery for a change, and while I miss the Hawk and Susan banter (I could read an entire book of nothing but Spenser, Susan, and Hawk conversing over a gourmet dinner), Spenser is wittier and the action is grittier for not relying on the tired old cliches. Perhaps the best Spenser book since 1987's Pale Kings and Princes.

Cinnamon Kiss is the latest in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, about a part-time black detective in 1960s Los Angeles. There's nothing extra special or unique about this entry, which doesn't lessen its readability; Mosley does his usual superb job of painting a picture that provides a vivid sense of place and time. And it's a good mystery, to boot, this one taking Easy up to San Francisco for awhile, then back to south central L.A., in a quest to find a missing woman and a briefcase full of valuable bonds. Additional tension is provided by the illness of Easy's adopted daughter, Feather; Easy is under particular pressure to solve the case and collect a handsome reward, in order to afford Feather's necessary and expensive medical treatment. All the familiar characters turn up, including Jackson Blue, Saul Linx, and Easy's homicidal friend Raymond "Mouse" Alexander. As with all of Mosley's books, this one is a very satisfying treat.

War at Home presents us with another part-time black detective, in the form of Kris Nelscott's Smokey Dalton. In her Smokey Dalton novels (this is the fifth book in the series), Nelscott has used the conventions of the genre mystery to detail race relations and the civil rights movement in the 1960s, by tying her plots with key events -- Martin Luther King's assassination, the 1968 Democratic convention, and, in this book, the burgeoning anti-war movement. In this book Smokey, his "son" Jimmy, and street-smart friend Malcom Reyner travel from Chicago to Connecticut and New York City in search of teacher Grace Kirkland's missing son, Daniel. The search brings Smokey into contact with a group of anti-war radicals, in the fashion of the real-life Weathermen, and a plot to bomb various establishment fixtures. What I find amazing is that this convincing and engrossing view of what it meant to be a black man during that turbulent era is written by a young white woman from Oregon. (I must admit, I had very mixed feelings when I discovered, about three books in, that the author was both female and white; I'd just assumed that Kris was a male name and that "he" was a black man, just like Walter Mosley, author of the similar Easy Rawlins books -- although, interestingly, both Nelscott and Mosley got their start writing science fiction, not mystery books.)

The Colorado Kid is Stephen King's first paperback original in what, forever? -- as well as his first true mystery (not horror) novel. It's published as part of the Hard Case Crime imprint, which specializes in hard boiled noir fiction, both reprinting early works from established writers such as Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block and publishing new works from younger authors. King's entry is bound to confuse both his traditional audience and loyal Hard Case Crime readers, as it's more soft boiled than hard. It is a mystery of sorts, told completely as a book-length conversation between the crusty old editor of small-town Maine newspaper, his equally crusty right-hand man, and a young female reporter. Though the book was nothing like what I expected, it was pretty good -- King is a very talented writer, after all. It's also a very quick read, more of a novella than a novel, easily finished in a single setting. In any case, I'm glad to see King try something new, and for him to lend his name to an up-and-coming imprint like Hard Case Crime. It's a quick, cheap read -- definitely worth the money.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New cell phone

With all my ranting about public cell phone use, it might surprise you to find out that I just purchased a brand-new cell phone for myself. I never use the damned thing, but I always like to have the latest model. It's a tech geek gadget thing. But the guy at the Cingular store was a little thrown off by someone requesting the bare minimum service plan and the most expensive phone in the store. Ah, contradictions.

The new phone is a black Motorola Razr. It's really thin and tres hip, and does all the geeky stuff you'd want it to do. Not that I'll use it to do all that stuff -- no cockroach-sized Bluetooth headsets for me. I just use it to check my answering machine when I'm out. What a waste of technology. (But it is really cool!)

I switched service providers from Sprint to Cingular, because I hate fucking Sprint. My old phone, a Sanyo model, just plain sucked; I couldn't hear squat with it. (The Razr is noticeable improvement on the sound quality front.) But the back-breaking straw came about a year ago, when I got a promotional mailing from Sprint advertising a new, lower-rate service for infrequent callers like myself. Sprint thought I should switch, I agreed, and tried to do it. Then the fun began.

First, Sprint won't let you manage your service plans over the web. Annoying, yes, but not a deal breaker. So I called customer service, said I wanted to switch plans, and entered into thirty minutes of hell. The customer service rep led me down the long, convoluted path to changing plans (which should have been a simple checkbox on a web page), at the end of which was this interesting and unexpected revelation: To change plans, I had to sign up for another two-year contract. That's right, I couldn't just switch plans, I had to resubscribe to the new plan. This was unacceptable, to say the least; after all my hassles with Sprint, not to mention the sucky phone, I didn't want to extend anything -- especially when the suggestion to switch plans came from the company itself.

So I told the nice customer service lady to scrap the plan-switching paperwork, and to tell her supervisor that I would be switching companies instead, when my original two-year contract was up. Which it was this week, hence the new phone with a new company. Goodbye Sprint, hello Cingular.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Girl Group sound

I've been in seventh heaven this past week, listening to Rhino's latest boxed set, One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found. I'm a long-time fan of the early-60s Girl Group/Brill Building/Wall of Sound genre (and of Rhino Records, of course), and this boxed set is perhaps the finest representation to-date of the Girl Group part of that equation.

First, a bit about the boxed set. It's a 4-CD set, each CD with 30 songs each, for a total of 120 girl group classics. It comes with the kind of in-depth liner notes, in a separate booklet, that one expects from the folks at Rhino. And it's all wrapped up in what looks to be a 60s-era hatbox, very cute.

The recordings are all first-rate, fully remastered in glorious mono (in most cases). Many of the songs here are available on other collections (such as K-Tel's long out-of-print The Brill Building Sound boxed set), but the sound here is much superior to what I've heard elsewhere. Take, for example, the forgotten gem "My One and Only, Jimmy Boy" by The Girlfriends. This song first got rediscovered on The Brill Building Sound, then later was included on one of Ace Records' Early Girls compilation CDs. In both those instances, the sound was muddy, without a lot of headroom; it sounded as if it had been recorded in a trashcan. Not so on Girl Group Sounds. Here the sound is bright and clear, almost as if it had been recorded last year instead of forty years ago. (It first hit the charts in February of 1964, where it got swept away by the Beatles invasion.) You can hear every footstomping beat, every crack from Hal Blaine's snare drum, and all the glory of Steve Douglas' rockin' sax solo. The sound is so vibrant, so joyous, you just want to get up and dance along.

As I said, most of the songs on the Rhino set have been available in other collections, although you had to look hard for them. Rhino's mid-1980s The Best of the Girl Groups compilations offered some of these tunes, as did K-Tel's late, lamented 1993 The Brill Building Sound box. More recently, U.K. reissue label Ace Records had dug up several of these cuts for their Early Girls and Where the Boys Are compilations, although both the sound and the liner notes are superior in this new Rhino set.

My favorite tunes? There's a bunch. "He's Got the Power," by The Exciters. "You Don't Know," a rare solo singing turn by songwriter Ellie Greenwich. "Please Don't Wake Me," by The Cinderellas. "I Never Dreamed," by The Cookies. "Break-A-Way" by Irma Thomas. The Bacharach-like "Girl Don't Come," by Sandie Shaw. "The One You Can't Have," by The Honeys, written and produced by Brian Wilson in his best better-than-Spector mode. The aforementioned, "My One and Only, Jimmy Boy," by The Cinderellas, a rollicking Wall of Sound-alike by future Bread-winner David Gates. "Dream Baby" by a very young Cher, where producer Sonny Bono shows that he learned something when he used to work for Phil Spector. "I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)" by the Ikettes, recently revived in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. "Peanut Duck," an irresistibly odd dance number by an anonymous singer billed as Marsha Gee. A somewhat obscure Dusty Springfield number titled "I Can't Wait Till I See My Baby's Face." A rare live version of Patty & The Emblems' "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl." And too many more to mention.

The Girl Group sound was inspired by the popular female pop singers of the 1950s (Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, et al), the burgeoning R&B genre (Ruth Brown, Etta James, et al), and various female doo-wop groups. The fire was lit by early rock 'n' roll, and the fuel provided by the era's best producers, songwriters, and studio musicians. Its birthplace was New York, but it quickly migrated to Los Angeles, Detroit, London, and beyond. At its best, the Girl Group sound mixed bits of Brill Building pop, Phil Spector Wall of Sound, sassy Motown soul, and the sound of swingin' London -- although it doesn't fall squarely into any of these camps. After all, Brill Building songwriters also wrote for male teen heartthrobs and manufactured groups like the Archies and the Monkees; the Wall of Sound powered hits by The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner; Motown was at least as much Temps and Tops as it was Supremes and Marvelettes; and London pop eventually devolved into schmaltzy Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. So the Girl Group sound was more than the sum of its parts -- it was its own distinct sound, whether fronted by a real group or a solo singer with backups.

To many critics, the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles era was a musical wasteland, but they just weren't listening hard enough. The best of the Girl Groups (and solo singers working with backup groups) transcended the factory-like approach to the music, working with the best songwriters, producers, and studio musicians to create classic tracks that bear their unique imprint. I'm talking about groups like The Shangra-La's, The Chiffons, and The Shirelles, and solo singers like Ronnie Spector (of The Ronettes), Darlene Love (of The Blossoms), Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Leslie Gore, and, of course, Diana Ross (and The Supremes). These are great songs, great performances, and great records. I can listen to them all day long -- and often do.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Flying the friendly skies

Last weekend I flew out to Pasadena for an old friend's wedding. It was not the smoothest trip I've ever been on.

The trip out was fine, Indianapolis to Denver to Burbank. (Burbank was the closest airport to my friend's house in Pasadena; actually a quick and convenient little airport -- to a point, as I'll soon discuss.) The wedding was great, held outdoors in the L.A. Arboretum, near where they used to film parts of the old Fantasy Island TV show. Lots of exotic flowers and peacocks, which can also be exotic -- unless you have dozens of them nesting in your front yard, as my friend does, in which case even exotic animals can become pests. In any case, it was a nice wedding, and I had a nice time.

If I had been smart, I would have flown back home on Sunday. (The wedding was Saturday evening.) But I thought, what the heck, might as well spend another day in sunny Pasadena. So that's what I did, intending to fly back on Monday.

Intending is the operable word. Come Monday morning, I drive to the Burbank airport, do a quick check in, and settle in for the wait before the flight. That's when I found out about the snow. In Denver. Which is where my flight back to Indianapolis connected.

First, my flight was delayed by an hour. No problem, I had two hours between flights in Denver. Then the flight was put on indefinite hold, due to a ground stop in Denver. (You'd think the folks in Denver might have learned how to handle a little snow, but noooooo...) That's when I trekked back to the counter to try and figure out another way home, one that didn't involve Denver.

Now we come to the first of many reasons why I hate United. The lady at the counter said that there was probably a flight from LAX to Indy via Chicago, but that she couldn't make the changes herself. Instead, I had to call the reservations desk. Why the hell couldn't the lady at the United ticket counter in Burbank access the United reservations system? Isn't that what they get paid to do? Don't they have Burbank on line with the rest of the system? Is Burbank that much of a step-child of an airport? Or is United's entire operational process totally fucked up?

It doesn't matter. I got on my cell phone and called the United reservations desk. Or tried to. United uses a particularly annoying, impractical, and unavoidable voice message system, where it's virtually impossible to tunnel through to a real live human being. After five minutes of pushing buttons and yelling "NO!" into the phone, I finally got hold of said real live human being. (Tip for future use: Just say "AGENT" at any voice prompt; too bad they didn't tell me that up front.)

Said real live human being was a male American, which is unusual these days, but what the hey. The male American on the phone told me that yes, there was a LAX-Chicago-Indianapolis flight that afternoon, but it left in about an hour and a half. There was no way I could get from Burbank to LAX, check in, and make it through security in time. So I decided to spend an extra day in sunny California, and reschedule my flight for early the next morning out of LAX. (No point testing my luck by trying to go through Denver again.)

After changing my reservation over the phone, I trundled over to the airport Hilton, where a gaggle of protestors wearing Ronald Reagan masks were mouthing off about some damn thing or another. I ignored them, checked in, and connected to the Internet to check my email and do a little work; no sense wasting the day. That's when I decided, just for chuckles, to head over to the United website and check out my new reservations.

Good thing I did that.

Monday was October 10th. My new reservations should have been made for Tuesday October 11th. Instead, the screen showed that my reservations were for August 11th. Big difference.

Time for another call to the United reservations center. After punching and screaming my way through voice message hell, I finally got a live human being. I explained my situation, and the person appeared to be somewhat flummoxed. Said he couldn't change the reservation. Said I had to talk to someone in customer support.

Fine. It only took me a half hour to get to this point; plenty of time left on my schedule.

The first person couldn't transfer me to customer support. I had to dial them directly, which I did. After another few minutes of punching and screaming my way through the voice message system, I was patched through to a nice Indian gentleman. He was very helpful. (No sarcasm here; he did a good job.) He listened to my increasingly lengthy explanation of my problem, confirmed what had happened, profusely apologized, said he'd send me a $50 travel voucher for my trouble, and then said I'd have to call back to the reservations desk to make the necessary changes. He gave me explicit instructions on how to bypass the voice message system (hence the "AGENT" trick), provided a magic number so I wouldn't have to repeat my story again, and told me to request a supervisor when I got through. Why customer service couldn't change my reservation, especially after the first reservation agent couldn't do it, either, I didn't question. Bureaucracy in action.

Okay. I redialed reservations, said "AGENT" at the first voice prompt, and got connected to a nice Indian lady. I asked for a supervisor, she said she was one (I didn't question that), then I gave her my magic number. The guy in customer service had done his job, my info was in the system already, and she made the correct reservation lickety split. She apologized for my problem and tried to get me to rent a car from Avis. Ah, upselling.

All in all, I spent over an hour on the phone trying to fix the problem that the first reservations agent had created. Not a good thing. Not a way I would want to run a business. Not the type of situation that would have me seeking out United for my future travel plans.

But my story doesn't end there. I got up bright and early the next morning for my 9:00 a.m. flight. The person at the hotel's front desk said I probably should leave at 5:30 to make it from Burbank to LAX, given the traffic and airport security and all that, so that's what I did. The cab ride took a brief half hour (no traffic at all on the freeways that early in the morning), there was no line at the check-in counter, and no one in front of me in the security line. By 6:15 I'm sitting at the gate area, primed and ready to board my 9:00 flight. It's not like I wouldn't have liked another hour's sleep or anything.

(To rub salt in the wound, I discovered that my original Burbank-to-Denver flight the previous day actually did take off, about three hours late. I would have missed the Denver-to-Indy flight, which really wouldn't have mattered as that flight was cancelled. However, a later Denver-to-Indy flight was operational and there was room on it for me, had I continued to wait in the Burbank airport instead of switching reservations to the next day. C'est la vie.)

The flight from LAX to Chicago was on a 767, which is a plane I generally like. I tried to upgrade to United's Economy Plus class, where you get an extra 4" or so of legroom, but this plane didn't have Economy Plus seating. They did have Business class, but it was all sold out, which meant I had to endure a 3 1/2-hour flight with my knees digging into the seat in front of me. Even worse, my seat was near the back of the plane, where the center seating area starts to taper off, and was offset from the seat in front of me; the result was that the tray table, which would have barely lowered anyway, did not lower into a perfectly horizontal position, instead hitting against my right armrest. This proved to be a bit of a problem when the Wicked Witch of the West, who happened to be moonlighting on stewardess duty, sat a cup of water down on my less-than-horizontal tray. The cup promptly slid forward, slopping its contents onto my lower legs. Cool, refreshing water. Good thing I hadn't asked for a Coke.

(By the way, the entire flight was completely sold out--like all my other recent flights. If the planes are always full, how come all the airlines are going bankrupt? How lousy a businessperson do you have to be to lose money when you and all your competitors are running at full capacity? Seems to me the simple solution is either to cut costs or raise prices. Something's wrong with the concept of capitalism when an entire industry can go under because their prices are too low.)

Chicago to Indy wasn't much better, stuck in a middle seat all the way. Fortunately, that's a short flight -- you barely get up in the air before you head back down again. We were delayed, however, for about 15 minutes because the plane was waiting to be refueled. (Or, as the pilot put it, "We're waitin' for that little ol' fuel truck to pull up alongside us.") I would have thought they'd have that whole refueling thing down to a manageable routine, but what do I know? In any case, I made it home in one piece, and they didn't even lose my luggage.

So that's why I don't like United all that much. Who'd of thought that do-it-yourself customer service wasn't really a good idea?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Cronies and qualifications

Examining Harrier Miers' credentials for Supreme Court justice, one has to ask the question: How did the Bushies previously manage to nominate someone as qualified as John Roberts? Miers is obviously unqualified and just as obviously a recipient of rampant Bush loyalist cronyism, while Roberts was neither; they are the yin and the yang of all possible nominees. How did the Bushies get the first one so right and the second one so wrong?

First, to Miers' qualifications. She doesn't have any. Bush nominating his personal lawyer to the Supreme Court would be like me nominating my dentist to be Surgeon General. He might be able to do the job (or he might not), but there are tons of people a lot more qualified. When Miers' strongest points appear to be that she's "nice" and organized and makes a good cup of coffee, you know something fishy is afoot. When challenged as to the wisdom of his choice during a day after press conference, Bush said, "I picked the best person I could find." I guess he wasn't looking too hard. It just goes to show that Bush's circle of cronies and sycophants is actually quite small; I mean, isn't he running out of friends to promote to high places?

I'm not concerned with Miers' political or religious leanings, although others will be. (I admit, it's kind of fun to watch the hard-right social conservatives blow a gasket over Miers' lack of demonstrable conservative bona fides.) I'm concerned with qualifications, and the ability to do the job. We appoint nine whole people to rule as the highest court in the land; they should be the top legal and constitutional minds available. A second-rate lawyer who went to a third-rate law school and became a fourth-rate political flunky and memo editor doesn't qualify, in my book. John Roberts, in spite of his political views (whatever they turn out to be), is the kind of appointee that is hard to vote against, strictly on his extremely impressive resume and real-world experience. The guy's qualified to do the job; Harriet Miers isn't.

The Senate -- both Republican and Democratic members -- should unite to vote against Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. We should demand more from our public servants than what Bush has given us this time around. (And why did Bush give us such a blatant crony? Because there will be lots of major court cases over the next 4-5 years having to do with the various misdeeds undertaken by the current administration; Bush wants a friend on the court who can be relied on to always vote in his favor.)

My prediction? Under increasing pressure and the likelihood of a strong "no" vote, Miers will withdraw her name from nomination. This is -- or at least it should be -- a non-starter, for all concerned.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Talkin' to myself and feelin' old

Earlier today I drove by some old guy with a scruffy white beard, standing by himself on a busy street corner. He was just standing there, talking out loud to himself, not another human being within earshot. Crazy old coot, I said to myself.

But then I caught myself. Maybe he's not talking to himself. Maybe he's talking on a cell phone. No phone to be seen, of course, but that didn't mean anything. Maybe he had a corded headset, and instead of talking to himself, he was talking to his sister in Des Moines.

Except I didn't see a cord, and I didn't see a headset. Still, he could have one of those cordless Bluetooth dealies, the ones that are no bigger than a cockroach and fit right inside your ear. Yeah, that's probably it, talking on his Bluetooth headset to his sister in Des Moines.

Although I looked really close as I drove by, and I didn't see anything sticking into or out of his ear. So maybe he really was a crazy old coot, talking to himself in the middle of the day on a busy street corner.

You see, you can't tell anymore who's crazy and who's high-tech. Mental illness has the same outward appearance as high-tech cell phone usage. You walk down any street or shopping mall and you see dozens of people talking out loud to no one in particular. They're either all a bunch of loonies or they're all talking to their sisters in Des Moines. One or the other.

This might be the biggest difference someone from the past might find if they awoke in our 21st century future. Someone fast forwarded from the 1960s would see all these people walking around and talking to themselves, and think either that there's been a vast outbreak of mental disorders or that we've developed some really good drugs. The concept of constant communication via cellular technology wouldn't occur to them.

Of course, maybe we are all crazy, even if we're talking on the mobile to our sisters in Des Moines. In my opinion, you have to be crazy to want to be in such constant contact with other people. What's wrong with a little personal time? Up until recently, that's all we had.

And, before advent of always-on cell phones and cockroach-sized earpieces, if you saw someone talking to himself, you knew he was a little tetched in the head. There wasn't any question about it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Politics, power, and money

For the past five years or so I've been trying hard to understand the motivation behind the actions of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. Just why do the Bushies do what they do, and why do their Congressional lapdogs follow in lock-step? I pondered various motivations, from Oedipal Syndrome to power-mad "we're going to rule the world" fantasies, and nothing seemed to make sense. And as for the Congressional lapdoggedness, the only thing I could come up with was some sort of large-scale blackmail scheme involving every single member of the Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike. But that was too farfetched, even for me; something else had to be at work.

Well, with the indictment of Tom Delay, the real motivations are now clear. The actions of the entire Bush administration are based on simple crony capitalism, albeit taken to a heretofore-unthought of extreme. It's a matter of politics being played for the purpose of power and money, nothing more insidious than that.

Here's how it works. Bush has friends (who have friends who have friends) who would like to profit a bit from their relationship to the Prez. Bush uses his power to financially reward his friends, in the form of government contracts, tax breaks, watered-down regulations, and cushy appointments. The more power he has, the more actions he can take without anyone asking any embarrassing questions. Bush's power grabbing has nothing to do with world domination or ideology; he's only grabbing power to better reward his cronies.

I think I would have been more comfortable if there was a truly evil intent behind the re-emergence of the Imperial Presidency, the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and all of Bush's other follies. But it's not evil we're dealing with, it's simple greed. I'd wager that Bush really doesn't care that much about the whole power thing, other than for the perks that come with it. (He certainly doesn't seem to like the responsibilities that come with the power.) A strong Presidential branch is simply in a better position to get its way -- and better serve its cronies.

Examples? How about the whole Iraq war, which ultimately doesn't have much if anything to do with neo-colonialism or nation building or even oil. It's all about the contracts. Bush invades Iraq, demolishes untold number of buildings and facilities, and thus paves the way to hand out contracts to Halliburton and other cronies to rebuild what they've just destroyed. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives down the drain, just so a few big contractors can make a few more bucks. Disgusting.

And what keeps Congress from blowing the whistle on this nonsense? Money. This is where Tom Delay comes in. The Hammer controlled the purse strings for millions of corporate lobbying dollars, which he handed out to those Republican congressmen who went along with the game plan. If you didn't play by Delay's (and, by proxy, Bush's) rules, you not only got your funding cut off, you also found yourself on the receiving end of Karl Rove's Rotweiller-like attacks. It was a carrot and stick approach, with lobbying funds as the carrot and loss of funds (and Rove's ire) as the stick.

Looking at things, one has to wonder who was pulling whose strings. Was Delay working for the Bush administration, or was Bush put in place to be Delay's man behind the scenes? It doesn't really matter; one hand washes the other, whichever way you look at it.

This is, without question, the dirtiest bunch of politicos since the Harding administration. By the time prosecutors get to the bottom of it (and they will; the public loves a good political scandal), this will prove to be an even more flagrant abuse of power and privilege than what led to the Teapot Dome scandal in the early 1920s. The rich and the powerful have been using our country's resources to make themselves more rich and powerful; the public should be outraged.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More sorry servers

Continuing my previous rant about unprofessional service help, here's another one. I'm at my local sub shop the other day, I'm not the only person in line, and the lady behind the cash register decides to have a nice little conversation with the woman in line just in front of me. But it's not a little conversation, it's a long one. They're gabbing about crystals and healing massages and who knows what, while the line is piling up behind me and steam is starting to issue forth from my ear canals. They talk for a good five minutes, like old pals who haven't seen each other since the last high school reunion, totally oblivious to the other customers in line, before the woman in line finally takes her change and heads off to a table.

I'm all for being friendly with customers (to a point), but his was ridiculous. It was extremely unprofessional and inconsiderate to us other poor shlumps waiting to pay for our rapidly-cooling food. Did this woman -- these women -- totally lack common sense and a minimal awareness of their surroundings? Apparently.

And here's something I've noticed. Foreign-born service staff, or those with ethnic backgrounds, seem to be both more professional and more polite than native-born Caucasians. As an example, the Indian woman at my other local sub shop is unfailingly prompt, cheery, polite, and professional. She always says "thank you" and "you're welcome," and never says "no problem" -- unlike the dumb white kid who serves beside her; he moves so slowly I can see the fresh vegetables wilting while he works, and can always be counted on to mumble "okay dude" when I give him my order (which he then screws up). One suspects it's a cultural thing when the Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and Mexican waitresses and counterpeople do such an exemplary job while the native-born lunks act as if the whole process is really bumming them out. Yet another sign of American's decline, no doubt.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds might disagree, dude.

Monday, September 19, 2005


My family was eating breakfast at a local Bob Evans restaurant the other day (not my choice), and my 14 year-old nephew got really annoyed at the waitress, who kept calling him "sweetie." He wasn't a sweetie, my nephew protested, which is true. Besides, referring to a complete stranger (no matter how young or how sweet) by such a familiar term is highly unprofessional.

It happens to me all the time. There's one counterperson at my local bagel shop who insists on calling me "hon." I am not a "hon," I have never been a "hon," and I am extremely annoyed if not downright offended to be referred to as such. In this case the countergirl is about half my age (she in her 20s, me in my 40s), which doesn't excuse anything. (At least she didn't call me "gramps.")

Then there's the guy at the sub shop who always asks me about whatever book I happen to be reading. (I always take a book to lunch, in order to keep from getting bored while refreshing my nutrients.) I didn't go to lunch with the expectation of giving a book report, and it's no one's business what I'm reading, what the book is about, or whether or how much I like it. He tends to get offended when I answer his "what're you reading?" question with the curt phrase, "a book," but at least he gets the point. Let me read in peace, bub.

I'm also not a big fan of waitresses and waiters who sit down in the booth with me while they're taking my order. This seems to be standard operating procedure at my local cheap chain steakhouse. This person who I do not know sits down, completely uninvited, and starts conversing with me like I'm some long lost friend. Well, folks, if I wanted a conversation, I'd eat dinner with someone I actually liked, not this stranger who has an uncanny knowledge of the specials of the day. Excuse me for being surly, but I really didn't go to that restaurant with the express purpose of being chatty.

You might think that my dislike of overly familiar waitstaff contradicts my previous rant about impolite waitstaff -- you know, the guys who offer a lackadaisical "no problem" instead of the expected "thank you" and "you're welcome." But they're really two sides of the same coin. It's not so much about being friendly or not, it's about being polite and professional. When you call me "hon" or try to make unwanted conversation, you're not acting in a professional manner. Overfamiliarity is just as much a service-industry sin as not thanking customers properly for their business. What I want is a professional greeting, prompt and attentive (but not overly attentive) service, and then for the staff to fade into the shadows. I don't want to be their friend. I want to be their customer, and be treated accordingly.

But that's just my opinion, hon; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another reason to hate cell phones

I'm taking time off from my continuing criticism of the inept and criminally corrupt Bush administration to complain once again about one of my least favorite technological advances -- the cell phone. I continue to believe that cell phones will lead to the death of civilization as we know it, as you can tell from some of my previous rants on the subject (here, here, here, here, and here).

My latest beef with what the Europeans call "mobiles" comes after a day spent at a big industry trade show. Trade shows are not my favorite places to be, but you gotta go where you gotta go. What I encountered this go-round was that people like to talk on their cell phones while they cruise the show floor. The annoying thing, in addition to being forced to listen to their private conversations, is that most people have difficulty walking and talking at the same time. (Thank heaven they didn't try to chew gum, too.) So what you get is a guy walking down the crowded aisle talking on his cell phone, then abruptly stopping in the middle of everything so that he can make some conversational point with someone a couple of hundred miles away. It goes without saying that when you stop dead in your tracks in the middle of flowing pedestrian traffic, you cause incalculable bodily collisions. A guy walks, talks, stops, and causes chaos in his wake. Multiply this situation by dozens if not hundreds of similar walker/talkers, and you see why I'm particularly peeved.

One other annoyance I discovered at the trade show was the profusion of drag-along briefcases. You know what I'm talking about; the oversized briefcase on wheels with a extending handle, like a airline carry-on but used on the ground. The problem with this particular contraption is the floor space it occupies. One person takes up a certain square footage of floor space; dragging a rolling briefcase behind doubles if not triples the floor space used. The issue, then, is of increased density, as the available floor space is cut in half without the crowd itself expanding.

Then there's the related issue of floor space versus air space. That is, it looks as if you're the proper distance from the person in front of you, but the trailing luggage trips you up. I can't tell you how many times I stumbled over low-riding bags when traffic slowed. Combine the mobile briefcase problem with the mobile phone walk/talk/stop problem and you have a complete breakdown of normal traffic patterns -- and more than a few lawsuits waiting to happen.

My solution? Well, other than staying away from trade shows (which is an excellent suggestion), I keep coming back to a universal cell phone ban in public places. That won't solve the rolling luggage problem, of course, but my question there is just how much shit does a person really need to haul around? I mean, I've never carried such a load that I couldn't heft it with my arm or fling it over my shoulder. If you have to drag it, you need to dump it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reining in the Christian right

The Christian right, which is neither Christian or right, is becoming a danger to our American democracy. It’s one thing to adhere to a set of beliefs; it’s quite another to try to impose those beliefs on others. This is especially so when the beliefs are extremist in nature, held by a small minority of the public, and, quite frankly, wrong.

Can you get any more wrong than claiming that the Hurricane Katrina disaster was the wrath of a God angry about New Orleans’ noted debauchery? That’s what Repent America says, claiming that it was no coincidence that Katrina hit just days before New Orleans’ annual Southern Decadence gay pride celebration.

“Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city,” stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. “From 'Girls Gone Wild' to Southern Decadence, New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge.”

Equally deplorable was the rejoicing by Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, who was ecstatic that Katrina shut down the area’s abortion clinics – thus, to his way of thinking, becoming a disaster that actually saved lives.

“New Orleans now is abortion free,” Shanks said. “New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again.”

This just goes to show how similar fundamentalists are across all religions, as Islamic extremists are also praising Katrina as Allah’s revenge on evil Western society. And just as Islamic fundamentalists are a danger to our American way of life, so are these Christian fundamentalists.

This country was founded on individual liberty, freedom of speech, and religious tolerance, and any movement that seeks to suppress any or all of these tenents is a potential danger to the republic. Today’s Christian right, those activist fundamentalists represented by James Dobson and his ilk, want to remake the country in their own image. These are not harmless kooks; these are extremists who are well-organized and well on their way to achieving their goals.

Let us take, as another example, the Christian Exodus movement, as highlighted in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. This is a movement of politically active Christian extremists who want to establish a government based upon a specific set of fundamentalist Christian principles. If these activists have their way, they will live in a county where abortion is illegal, homosexuality is outlawed, school prayer is mandatory, and all manner of so-called immoral behavior is banned. They want to live in a Christian nation of their own very specific design, one where non-Christian beliefs and behavior are simply not tolerated.

Those in the Christian Exodus movement are starting small. Realizing they might not be able to take over the entire United States in a day, they’re instead concentrating on taking control of local governments across the country. They’re putting their people on city councils and school boards, in local sheriff’s offices and planning boards, just about anywhere they can get a foothold. They plan to pass what they deem as godly legislation, openly defying Supreme Court rulings on the separation of church and state. As one of the group said:

“We’re going to force a constitutional crisis. If necessary, we will secede from the union.”

Now, I ask you, is this the voice of a true American? Do loyal citizens openly defy established law, with the goal of overthrowing the national government or seceding from the union?

I think not. This kind of thinking is every bit as dangerous as what we face from Islamic terrorists. Just like the Islamic terrorists, these Christian extremists want to topple the United States of America. If they have their way, you and I and anyone else who thinks differently from them will be either detained or banished. Their ideal world doesn’t allow for opposing views.

What can we do to stop these Christian fanatics? Our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech allows them to say what they want to say, think what they want to think, and believe what they want to believe. We are forced to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of us. Outlawing their particular beliefs would make us no better than them.

We do not, however, have to fund their anti-American activities. Religious organizations today enjoy tax-exempt status from the Federal government; in essence, since we don’t tax them on their income, we are helping to pay for these Christian extremist organizations. This can – and should – change.

What I recommend is simple. Any religious organization that engages in political activities should have their tax-exempt status revoked. Whether we’re talking Repent America, Christian Exodus, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, or Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, as soon as politics and religion merge, the religion loses its government support and starts paying taxes. I can assure you, with many of these organizations, that could be a killing blow. (And a great boon to Federal tax coffers.)

We have to tolerate even the most extreme among us. We don’t have to financially support them. No loyal American would knowingly write a check to Al Queda; we must stop our similar funding of these anti-American Christian extremists.

But that’s just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

More lies

I titled my last post "The blame game," not knowing that the Bush administration would appropriate this phrase as their talking point of the week. When anyone criticizes them on how they responded to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the appropriate Bush administration official says "Now's not the time to play the blame game." But, as we all know, anyone who doesn't want to play the blame game is probably to blame.

The other, historically typical, Bush administration response to criticism is to simply lie about what happened. Like Bush lying when he said nobody had any idea the New Orleans levees would break -- well, nobody except the National Weather Service, The Weather Channel, CNN, The New York Times, my local radio and television stations, me, and anybody else who was watching the big eye of Katrina hurtle towards the Gulf Coast. If Bush didn't know what was coming he was either ignorant or delusional -- or he's lying when he said he didn't know.

Team Bush is also lying when they say that the governor of Louisiana didn't call a state of emergency, and didn't ask the Feds for help. First, the facts demonstrate that Governor Blanco actually asked President Bush to declare a state of emergency on Saturday the 27th, before the storm hit. (Read the documentation here.) It was, in fact, the Bush flunkies who were obstructionist. It was on Monday the 29th that FEMA Director and ex-Arabian horse judge Michael Brown told fire and rescue services outside Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama not to send in emergency workers unless they are specifically requested. Why would he do that?

And here's the kicker. Even if the locals hadn't asked for help, don't you think the Feds would have gone in and done their thing anyway? After all, insignificant matters of procedure didn't stop Team Bush from invading Iraq and Afghanistan; the Bushies typically do what they want to do, whether anyone else invites them to or not. Why would entering Louisiana with food and water be any different from entering Iraq with bullets and bombs? This administration has never asked permission to do anything in the past; if they really wanted to help in Louisiana and Mississippi, they would have just gone in and did it. Act first, ask permission later -- that's their motto.

Bottom line, the Federal government screwed up big time in reacting to Hurricane Katrina, and everybody knows it. The Bushies can't spin or lie or otherwise divert attention away from the unpleasant facts. Let's hope the media and the people continue to push back against the "blame game" talking points and insist on a non-partisan commission to get to the bottom of this very obvious dereliction of duty.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The blame game

Hurricane Katrina has the Bush Administration on the ropes. Forget the 10,000 or so lives lost, the half-million or more left homeless, the billions of property damage, and the untold environmental impact; for perhaps the first time in his political career, George W. Bush has taken a serious hit, which calls for swift and immediate action.

Too bad the administration didn’t act as swiftly and surely when the people of New Orleans needed their help. But when it’s the president’s political career that’s in jeopardy, no expense is to be spared.

How do Karl Rove and the Bush spin machine deal with the negative publicity generated by the government’s dereliction of duty in the Katrina disaster? By going even more negative, of course. When something is obviously the president’s fault, it’s time to start playing the blame game – and dump their problems on somebody else’s shoulders.

Hence this not-so-surprising report from the New York Times:
Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisors, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Forget about containing the storm’s damage; it’s the political damage that really needs containing. Of course, there’s more:
It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on their relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials…

And what prompted this flurry of activity?
…Mr. Bush and his political aides rapidly changed course in what they acknowledged was a belated realization of the situation’s political ramification.

It wasn’t important enough for cabinet members to visit the devastated area when it was only the poor and the infirm who were suffering – road trips are only necessary when it’s the president’s poll numbers that are suffering. Forget the human toll; action is taken only when there is a political ramification.

The key bit, however, is the last one. Even though it’s fairly obvious that the slow and inept Federal response was the fault of the Federal government, Rove is trying to turn the tables and blame state and local officials instead. It’s typical Rove, and it stinks.

First off, it stinks that the Bush administration is putting more effort into their political response than they did to their humanitarian one. I recently wrote about the administration’s priorities; this just shows how misplaced those priorities are. I shouldn’t be surprised at the calculated callousness of Bush and Rove trying to make political points from others’ suffering – after all, that’s how they were able to turn the 9/11 attacks in 2001 into an electoral victory in 2004. No, what’s particularly galling is the insensitivity of doing it while people are still suffering, and doing it in such a way that it blames the victims for Bush’s own incompetence and indifference. Really, there ought to be a law against this sort of thing.

It stinks even more that the Bushies are trying to deflect the blame in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Some might call this spin; I call it lying – and they just might not be able to get away with it this time.

Thanks to 24/7 in-your-face television coverage of the disaster, the American public could see with their own eyes that the Feds were fucking this up big time. Yet the administration’s talking heads are out there on the news show circuit lying their asses off about everything being the fault of the locals. The governor didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, the mayor didn’t officially ask for their support, blah blah blah. I hope that our recently-awakened media and the public they serve see this as the administration’s version of a “the dog ate my homework” excuse, and call them on it.

I tell you, it’s heartening to see hacks like Michael Chertoff appear on Meet the Press and have Tim Russert hand him his head in a handbasket. Chertoff tried to spin the administration line about it being everybody else’s fault, but Russert wasn’t having any of it. Our boy Tim was like a pit bull, and Chertoff was left sweating and sputtering. If the media keeps on like this, the Bush administration will finally be caught in their own web of deceit.

Here’s the bottom line. Yeah, the local officials did their share of screwing up; someone should of thought to have some food and water waiting for the refugees in the Superdome, and maybe even station some police there to keep things under control. Nobody’s denying that. But the bigger issue is that it shouldn’t have taken the Federal government four days to respond to this disaster. The Feds should have rolled in Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning at the latest, in force and in charge. That didn’t happen, and you can’t blame the locals for that.

The Federal government’s insipid and inadequate response to the Katrina disaster is the fault of the Federal government, plain and simple. The blame is squarely on the officials in charge. If there is justice in this world, Michael Brown, Michael Chertoff, and all their direct reports should be fired for incompetence. In addition, Congress should hold hearings to determine if the government’s slow reaction was criminal in any way – and, if so, prepare the necessary indictments and letters of impeachment. This isn’t a little thing; 10,000 or so people lost their lives, a large number of which might have been saved by a faster, more sure response by the Federal government.

Yes, our first priority is to save those who still need saving, and then to help rebuild the area. But when that work is done, those responsible for making the catastrophe worse must be held to account. It’s not a matter of blame; it’s a matter of taking responsibility.

But that’s just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.