January 31, 2006

Rosenblog Opinion Review, Vol. 14

Imogen Foulkes, Duetsche Welle: "Is Davos About Social Consicence Or Socialite Soirees?"

Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal: "France's New Serfdom"

Alan Christie Swain, Berekely Daily Planet: "Karl Marx Was Right"

Tim Luckhurst, Times Of London: "Hooked On State Support"

Prague Post, editorial: "Hoping 10 Tons Of Dead Fish Means Something"

Philip Bobbitt, New York Times: "Why We Listen" (on NSA surveillance)

Nathan Yan, San Francisco Chronicle: "Teaching The Controversy Necessary To Teach Science"

Lansing State Journal, editorial, "Stem Cells: Lifting State Restrictions On Research Can Help Economy"

Joseph Epstein, Commentary: "Are Newspapers Doomed?"

Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune: "Sorry, Oprah - It's Still A Great Book"

James Lileks, The American Enterprise: "America's Designated Dresser Down"

Kathleen Parker, Kansas City Star: "Author Puts A Different Face On Wal-Mart"

Chicago Tribune, editorial: "Who's The Menace Here?" (on Wal-Mart)

Whittier Daily News, editorial: "Limit Breeding Of Aggressive Dogs"

Charles Krauthammer, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Ever Brothers, Ever Summer"


09:12 AM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2006

Is England's "Hate Speech" Bill Censorship?

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, writers, actors and Christians are uniting against a Labour Party-backed bill up for debate and a likely vote in the British parliament tomorrow, which would clamp down on speech critical of religions. The Guardian reports:

....the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill...goes before the Commons on Tuesday, (and opponents say a proposed amendment) would stifle freedom of speech....The Lords voted by a majority of 149 to narrow the government's proposed new offence of inciting religious hatred to that involving the use of threatening words or behaviour. But Labour now plans to make it an offence to incite religious hatred through the use of insulting or abusive words.

God only knows what would be deemed insulting or abusive, and how such critical language would be demonstrated to have incited religious hatred. People laughing, maybe? Comedian Rowan Atkinson has been leading the crusade to preserve the right to criticize absurdities and extremism put forth under cover of religion.

The comedian Rowan Atkinson today urged the government to compromise on its controversial religious hatred bill and to accept changes made by peers that strengthen the rights of performers to criticise religion. The comedian, famous for his roles as Mr. Bean and Blackadder, expressed his frustration at the government for refusing to so far back down on what he called a "chilling" threat to free speech.

At a cross-party meeting urging MPs to support the lords' amendments, Mr Atkinson called on ministers to cut themselves free from their "Thunderbirds puppet strings," being pulled, he said, by factions within the Muslim community.

The full text of his speech to lawmakers today is here. Atkinson observed:

All religions deserve equal freedom of worship and practice but none deserve the right to freedom from criticism. It is absolutely right and reasonable that religions should be protected from threatening language, behaviour and written material but I support the amendment to retain the right to abuse and insult, because of the essentially irrational nature of religious beliefs. That is not to dismiss them: indeed, I'm a great believer that the most important and most sustaining things in life are essentially irrational. Love, beauty, art, friendship, music, spirituality of whatever form, these things make no rational sense yet they are more important than any qualities that are rationally measurable.

Those who think that, as they lie on their deathbed, they will be able to judge the success of their lives by how big a BMW they could afford at the end of it, are in for a big surprise. However, it's their irrational nature that leaves religious beliefs wide open to interpretation, allowing occasionally practices to be established that are wholly contrary to the mores of a civilised, liberal society.

Truly. Responsible, pluralistic, tolerant Muslims should worry less about policing speech, and more about policing the apocalyptic rogues trying to hijack their religion in a bid to destroy Western civilization.


07:12 PM | Comments (0)

Iguana Farming, Global Branding Trump Iguana Tax for Boca Grande

The iguana vasectomies never panned out, nor yet, anyway, the iguana bounty hunters.

The story, unverifiable but quite likely true, is that some years back a local who'd been given two small pet iguanas had to move away, and so set them loose. And the rest is Southwest Florida history. The population of spiny-tailed iguanas has grown from an estimated 2,000 just two years ago to about 10,000 now on Gasparilla Island in Lee County, Florida, north of Fort Myers. The barrier isle includes the charming little town of Boca Grande, known for great tarpon fishing, and now for the local iguanas, who grow to as long as three or four feet, and can be seen lounging outside the South Beach Bar & Grill, umbrella drinks and plates of shredded dinosaur kale at their sides.

They burrow in sand, crawl spaces and attics, scale roofs from trees, chew through insulation and breed like minks - er, starlings. They also chomp up vegetation, harm sand dunes and the gopher tortise. Some local schoolkids are feeling pacifist towards the iguanas; but others are not:

Four students advocated complete iguana removal and/or extermination. Alex Horan, a fifth-grader, wrote: "I think we should kill the iguanas. At our house, we trap iguanas in a cage and then shoot them. In the case, we put hydrangeas to attract them. We should kill the iguanas because they are just nasty, creepy, sick and fat. They crawl through people's toilets. They make nests in people's cellars....." Reed Sligar, 10, described his change in heart on the iguana issue. He wrote: "I think we should get rid of the iguanas because they eat my mom's beautiful flowers. I used to like the iguanas, but now they are starting to become a pain."

The grown-ups are also restless about marauding iguanas. So Lee County's District 1 Commissioner Bob Janes, who has quite the business and public sector resume, got to thinking. But, with all due respect, maybe not quite hard enough. Commissioner Janes proposed that the town's street light district become the steet light and iguana taxing district. Yes: that's right folks: Boca Grande is now looking smack dab right at....an iguana tax. The district's 1,538 residents would pay something like $1 a year for initial planning on iguana eradication, Janes has proposed. If that passes muster, it had better be some awfully cost-effective planning, with a real revenue mechanism identified.

Two years ago, when the island's iguana population was about 2,000, the county estimated it would take $100,000 to $200,000 to get rid of the iguanas. With local iguanas now about five times more numerous, well, you do the math. County commissioners will discuss the proposed iguana tax further, at a management planning meeting Feb. 6.

However, Boca Grande may manage to avoid an iguana tax. There's now to be a survey, and if residents reject the iguana tax, the county will pay for iguana control. But everyone would be well advised to closely examine the county's final plans. I'm thinking maybe they can at least round up all the iguanas, and put 'em in a newly-built theme park built by some visionary entrepreneur who's doubtless waiting in the wings. That'd be really Floridian, wouldn't it? Train 'em to do tricks, pull little carrriages, wear costumes, stage protests with the ACLU for amphibian rights, the whole deal. Feed 'em well, build little iguana condos; charge $20 a head for adult visitors, $10 for kids; and - here's the real kicker - develop a global brand involving iguana paraphernalia, iguana-themed movies, cartoons, cereal and online gaming. Purchasing naming rights for a pro sports franchise is another obvious move. Should be no trouble at all forming an investment partnership for the whole thing.

Carl Hiaasen would come for a visit, dream up a few additional story elements to weave around the iguana theme-park motif, and there'd be his next picaresque, Florida-set million-seller, with a share of the profits funneled to non-profit iguana advocacy. Let's see, Carl: maybe a philandering congressman, a sleazy lobbyist, a biotech firm with ties to the White House and al Qaeda, and a secret project - with dark geopolitical implications - involving development of an urgently-needed iguana contraceptive. Of course there'd be the requisite, earnest-but-obscure local newspaper reporter, doggedly putting all the pieces together; and the reporter's love interest who's not very sexy when first sighted, but turns out to be a real hottie.

For starters, though, I see an iguana policy for all affected Florida locales, involving a GPS iguana census; a public-private partnership for iguana culling and capture; enforced captivity for all surviving iguanas; and carefully-calibrated iguana farming.

There'd be an economic feasibility study funded by the state and federal agriculture departments on iguana meat processing for the urban South and Central American, Mexican, and U.S. "green" markets. For our south of the border friends: No more chasing around the rainforest, where iguanas are increasingly scarce. Get your imported iguana meat at the supermercado, and get right back to your TiVo. For the "politics of personal virtue" crowd in the U.S., The Global Ideas Bank says iguana is politically correct and tasty, like chicken. Melissa Kaplan, author of "Iguanas For Dummies," says iguana is not only a scrumptious indigenous dish, but that its greater cultivation will help save the rainforests. More here: the basic idea is that iguana farming means not only commercially-available iguana meat, but also the reintroduction of some of the raised-in-captivity iguanas to rainforests, where their presence will help preserve the natural habitat in which they thrive.

As part of the compelling "green commerce" paradigm involving farmed iguanas, Kaplan sees a future for smoked iguana, iguana jerky and iguana sausage. Here are recipes for iguana soup, and iguana stew. Here's another one for iguana stew. I'm thinking iguana jerky and smoked iguana in vacu-paks, to address the perishability issue.

The farming and culinary processing component is central, as it allows Boca Grande's iguana population management program to pay for itself, and perhaps then some. The Boca Grande operation also serves as a training ground for the rural capitalists of South and Central America, who learn how to finance and develop their own sustainable iguana farms; enriching indigenous peoples, helping preserve crucial rainforest habitat, and hastening a new era of economic and political cooperation between the two continents.

Sounds like a slam-dunk to me.

Your thoughts?


09:10 AM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2006

Rosenblog's News Of The Skewed, Vol. 1

Responding to already-fierce price competition and a new tax hike on cigarettes by the reigning Socialists, Philip Morris lowered the price of Marlboros in Spain. This prompted an outcry from consumer health groups and doctors that the tobacco giant is trying to lure Spainards into the vile habit of smoking. Over time, prices will often fluctuate according to market conditions. If all it takes is a price cut to hook new addicts, there wasn't much hope for them in the first place. The responsibility for not smoking, or not eating too much crappy food, or not drinking too much, or...you name it...lies with the individual. Who is not quite an exalted being under Socialists, I realize. But still. Government already controls the taxes, should they be setting the prices of things that are bad for us, as well?

An employee of People For Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has legally changed his name to KentuckyFriedCruelty.com. And the web site includes a testimonial from The Rev. Al Sharpton, preaching compassion for chickens. I'll take mine extra-crispy, thanks.

A Syracuse University biologist has closely examined 334 different species of bats. He has determined that in species where the females have multiple sexual partners, male bats develop enlarged testes and smaller brains, compared to their male counterparts in other bat species whose mates are monogamous. The pressing question now is whether the findings might also prove true for the human species.

A cruel fate has befallen the French museum in Normandy that was founded to commemorate World War II and the famous Battle of Normandy - where 53,000 Allied soldiers gave their lives in 1944 to help take back Western Europe from The Nazis. Opened in 1988 by then French President Francois Mitterand, but run by the town council of Caen, Normandy, The Memorial Museum of Caen is awash in political correctness and controversy, and sinking fast, The Times of London reports. Exhibits on topics such as "the need for eco-responsibility" and "the principal disorders in the world today" have coincided with a drop in visitors and revenues. Frustrated, the director quit; his replacement's recovery plan includes ditching the tours of the famous Normandy beach battleground, while opening a new exhibit on "living without petrol."

"Ditches are for Snitches," and "Snitches Get Stitches" are emblazoned on T-shirts worn in public by some gang members in and around Oakland, the San Francisco Chroncile. The MYOB ethic goes back a long way: mobsters call it "omerta," or the code of silence. In the black community, fingering criminals is hard not just for all the usual reasons, but because cops today are still percieved as too alike the white racists overlords of the slavery era. So says hip-hop historian Davey D. Yeah Davey, that'll wash. I guess it's better all around if we let thugs and killers run free; and give a soul shake to all them permanently checked out thug-daddies, too. In the meantime, get some Kevlar underclothes, and ixnay on red or blue outerwear.


12:01 PM | Comments (1)

Rosenblog Opinion Review, Vol. 12

Laine Farhat Holzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel: "Moderate Muslims Must Reclaim Faith."

Eugene Register-Guard, editorial: "Palestinians Seek Change."

Toronto Sun, editorial: "Why Hamas Must Not Be Recognized."

Jerusalem Post, "The Hamas Electoral Victory."

Dave Kopel, Rocky Mountain News: "Did Blogosphere Influence (Canadian) Vote?"

Missoulian, editorial: "Eco Isn't The Issue - Terrorism Is."

Amity Shlaes, San Francisco Chronicle: "Even If It's No Ferrari, The Economy Runs Like A Porsche."

Joel Kotkin & William Frey, Los Angeles Times: "The Third California."

Andrew Sullivan, Sunday Times (London): "Hey, These Adverts Are Making Me Fat."

Elizabeth Lyons, Chicago Tribune: "Where Greed Can Take The Cake."

Jamie Gass, Boston Globe: "Rounding Out Our Future Work Force."

Don Aucoin, Boston Globe: "The Pornification Of America."


09:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2006

Friedman's Kinky-Toon Ad: Dij This, Hombre!

Texas indy gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman is one of four candidates (another indy and two lonesome Dems) trying to unseat Republican incumbent Rick Perry, who has really great hair. The former singer-songwriter and mystery novelist Friedman is a long-shot, but his campaign is more than the catchy slogan, "Why The Hell Not?" He's tapping into that populist vein in a Texas-sized way, and his first Kinky-Toon, an animated Internet ad, is really pretty great. Here ya go, hoss - just choose your media player, and take it for a ride.


09:21 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

What Now, Canada?

Now that the election is over, how changed will things be in Canada? Not dramatically different, in many respects, says Colby Cosh in The L.A. Times. Mind you, Conservative Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister, and while the Conservatives have more seats in parliament than any one other party, they are nonetheless outnumbered on the whole. Here's Cosh, issue by issue.

The A-Word: Canada currently has no laws in force concerning abortion; you can legally perform one in a shop window, though it's hell on lunchtime pedestrian traffic. When asked whether he intends to challenge this status quo, the new prime minister has often been quoted as saying, "Whoa! Look at the time! Hair appointment!".....he promised no new bills on abortion during his first term. And now, with a minority of seats in the House of Commons, Harper couldn't pass one if he wanted to.

Nouvelle Domesticity: The late Liberal government legalized same-sex marriage, but the new PM opposes it, if only because of the unbearable American gay-marriage tourists flooding our cities. (Gay Americans, recognized here as an oppressed class, can expect to be greeted with filial embraces. But they're still Americans, so we'll also be fumbling around in vain for the volume knob.) Harper is committed to holding a parliamentary vote on the issue; if his side wins, "civil unions" will replace "same-sex marriages," but existing gay marriages and legal privileges for homosexual couples would still be respected. Because he's outnumbered in the House by liberals and socialists, he's unlikely to win.

....Cheap (in Every Sense of the Word) Healthcare: The Conservatives have raised painful moral questions about a Medicare system in which all Canadian politicians profess undying pride until the day they get cancer and haul themselves across the border to the Mayo Clinic. Nonetheless, under our Constitution, healthcare regulation is handled at the provincial level, not federally. Harper may use his control of tax flows to discourage Liberal suppression of private medicine, but he has pledged to protect the monumental social contract under which every sick Canadian, rich or poor, can be stonewalled, misdiagnosed and exposed to hospital infections in any part of our great land.

....In sum: Canada remains in 2006 largely what it was in 2005 — a country where cigarettes are taxed 300% to 400% but heroin is free to addicts; where gay widowers have an easier time obtaining their pension entitlements than World War II veterans; and where a woman can go topless in public unless she has hate literature tattooed on her breasts.

I'm glad they're edging back toward the center, however modestly. Following Vancouver's lead, clearly.


08:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2006

Italy: Land of Romance, Anarchy & Olympics

With the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin approaching next week, nutjob activists are already making headlines by interfering with the weeks-long relay run of the Olympic torch to the site of the games.The Independent reports:

The torch has been involved in 33 incidents staged by anarchists and anti-globalisation activists since it left Rome on 8 December on its way to Turin.

The Guardian put it at 36 a week ago, and says most of the incidents have been inspired by anti-globalist sentiment toward Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the games.

One incident that has attracted worldwide attention occured recently in the northern Italy town of Trent.

Eleanora Berlanda, the Italian 1,500 metres champion runner, was pounding the streets ...bearing the torch when eight protesters, their faces hidden by scarves, burst through barriers along her route and grabbed at it. Ms Berlanda tried to fend them off, but was soon overwhelmed and gave up. Four of her attackers seized the torch and held it aloft. Police intervened and the flame was handed back to the runner...Four of the protesters escaped, but the other four were arrested and taken to a local police station, where an angry group of anarchists gathered outside in solidarity. The anarchists were booed and jeered by the crowd who had gathered to watch the progress of the flame. Some bystanders shouted "buffoni, buffoni," (buffoons) as the anarchists were led away.

Two of the buffoni have already been fined.

Three members of the U.S. military got to participate in the torch relay later, carrying it toward Fontanafredda. Nobody grabbed anything out of their hands.

Reuters reports Winter Olympics '06 promotions by organizers, and ticket sales have been lagging. But that all sorts of other things could go wrong, as well.

Up to 30,000-strong marches through the valley of Val di Susa, which connects the Olympic venues, have also added political worries to the event. Residents and environmentalists oppose the planned construction of a high-speed railway link between Italy and France that would cut through the valley. There have been violent clashes between some of the protesters and police.

Finally, metal workers in Turin have threatened to protest on the narrow, twisting Alpine roads to the venues if their demands in a wage dispute are not met, newspapers have reported. Such a move could bring much of the Games to a standstill. The roads linking ski resorts such as Sestriere, the bobsleigh track at Cesana and Turin are vulnerable to traffic jams, and security checks and bad weather could cause further delays. The International Olympic Committee warned TOROC (the local organizing committee) during its last visit in November that it would have to improve its transport plan, making sure visitors came prepared. TOROC is launching a local campaign telling drivers to switch to public transport. It remains to be seen whether the message reaches foreign visitors.

Or whether the ground transport workers go on strike. USA Today reports there's a "strike truce" commitment from local unions in Turin during the Games, but that Alitalia pilots and flight attendants have already announced a 24-hour strike on the first day Feb. 10. Is there anyone who can make the Italian trains run on time?


05:59 PM | Comments (0)

The Fevered Mind Of Jason Pancoast: Affluent Beggar

I recently posted about "The 'Affluent Beggars' of Ashland," Oregon; a mom and dad with three kids who live in hotels, send their school-age child to local schools, and say they make between $30,000 and $40,000 a year panhandling in Ashland. Of course it helps to have the younger kids in tow. As you can see in the above-linked post, I wasn't too enamored of the parents' approach. Here's the gist of what I wrote:

I'm glad their kids are well fed, and the parents responsive to the school. But they're teaching their kids a rotten lesson in the end, about abusing the perception of need. It says something that no one in the original Medford Mail Tribune story (first link in this post) would allow their full name to be used. Afraid of seeming "not compassionate" enough? Sheesh. This gets to the heart of the matter: enablement borne of liberal guilt. It is the good people of Ashland who are showering the family with an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 a year, even though it's now clear they are also getting food stamps, and more importantly, making no effort to get by on their own.

Well, the dad, Jason Pancoast, has replied to me, in a comment appended to that post, which arrived this afternoon. Jason writes:

First of all for being so informed you seem a tad bit naive to suggest that what the paper said we said was actually representational of our statements concerning our plight. We are offended by your seeming unwillingness to recognize that the colonization of most families on this planet is actually what is the "leech" that feeds this tyranny of rugged individualism masking the agenda of a global elite dead set on setting up the techno-fascist metaphysical police state neccesary for its ultimate goal goal of complete contol over all forms of domesticity.

We believe that within our diaspora from this spiritually fascist climate we developed the ability to develop perspectives that allowed us to break our socio-economic chains and reinvent our self identification process. And thru having a family on the road we have reclaimated our family's deity from our ancestry who we believe by practising the way they did put us as individuals in a position of being underlings and in servitude spiritually to those overlassmen who represent the people who have emasculated our families for generations. The parameters of our so called local papers are controlled systematically by these same folks which is why the article was framed (the way) it was. We have a story that must really be told even if its parameters indict the pseudo secular civil society we live in. Hopefully in the future we (will) get our oppurtunity.

Jason: I understand, from other news reports, that both you and your wife had difficult family lives, as children, and have been through periods of experimentation before settling down to affluent begging and raising children. But the only force still emasculating your ancestors is yourself.

Your kids don't want to live in a hotel room. They want a home, with a large, well-stocked refrigerator manufactured by a multinational corporation, and they want their own beds. I'm sure of it.

Now, I see you have clearly taken humanities courses at a liberal arts college, or at least done some of the emotional work. When you say: "within our diaspora from this spiritually fascist climate we developed the ability to develop perspectives that allowed us to break our socio-economic chains and reinvent our self identification process," I am struck with awe. M-E-A-L T-I-C-K-E-T, dude! You obviously could win a full scholarship, earn a doctorate, and attain full tenured professorship at any one of dozens of prestigious universities. Light work load, congenial collagues, a great platform for advancing your highly-nuanced cultural perspectives, plus family health care and a living wage. Go for it, Big Guy! Time to re-vision your paradigm.


04:56 PM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2006

"The Tripper" Draws Santa Cruz's Finest......Poseurs

You'll recall my recent post on a Hollywood movie about a mad Reaganaut out to cleanse society of hippies: it's called "The Tripper," and they're looking for phreak-y extras in that most phreakishly extraneous NoCal locale, Santa Cruz. Well, the producers were in clover at Monday's casting call: more than 300 people showed up and I guess would-be movie extras are almost as needy for attention as bloggers.

Santa Cruz High School student Parker Mozee-Baum said he was wearing everyday clothes: boxer shorts poked out above the silver-studded black leather belt in his baggy jeans, black mascara adorned his eyes and his orange and purple hair was tied in a ponytail. "I love acting and entertaining people, even if it's just a small role," Mozee-Baum, 15, said. "Honestly, I enjoy the attention".....The flick, directed by David Arquette, is about a conservative logger — a fan of Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics — out to murder a bunch of free-loving hippies with the help of his killer dog, Nancy. The extras are likely to play part of a large audience at an outdoor music festival, where they find themselves stalked by the logger and his dog, Spencer said. The scene could involve drug references, gore and blood, she said.

Pix here of the assorted and sundry applicants. Apparently, that rumor about Jerry's OD on chili dogs was a hoax.


02:48 PM | Comments (0)

In Defense Of Haggis - Sort Of

Today is the 247th birthday of famed Scottish poet Robert Burns.

And you know what that means.

(Burns is) the national bard of Scotland and an inspiration to Scots all over the world. The man who wrote "Auld Lang Syne," "Address to a Haggis" and "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" (among many other songs and poems) is honored around the world this week with traditional Burns Suppers.

Which means it's time for scotch and haggis, the traditional national delicacy of Scotland. It's a sausage with the casing made from sheep's stomach lining, and a filling of internal organs, oatmeal, gobs of mutton suet, and salt. If that sounds not so healthy to you, you'd be right. And so, as part of an ongoing healthy eating campaign aimed at clueless Scots, authorities are issuing a haggis alert just in time for Burns' birthday.

Scottish Executive Jack McConnell is warning that children should consume haggis only in moderation, like similarly salty, fatty foods such as hot dogs and chicken nuggets. Scotland's butchers and haggis masters are ticked off.

Alan Pirie of James Pirie and Son, reigning Scottish haggis masters, said: "With good turnips and potatoes, there's nothing more nutritious than haggis. It's made of all natural ingredients - there's no rubbish in it at all. To compare it with processed meat like chicken nuggets or hot dogs is just ridiculous."

However, the government's Food Standards Agency isn't backing down. They say added salt during food production is a public health threat, and they'll continue to educate the public. Bloomberg News reports that diet, drink and smoking have been taking a huge toll on public health in Scotland.

Scots have the highest rates of liver disease and obesity in Europe, the consequence of excessive smoking, junk food and alcohol. Nineteen percent of Scottish 12-year-olds are obese, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. and 5 percent in the U.K., according to the National Health Service, which says obesity is its greatest financial burden....At least one in five Scottish fish and chip shops sell Mars Inc. candy bars, which are smothered in batter and deep-fried, according to a National Health Service study in 2004. Other choices include haggis, pizza and sausages, all deep-fried.

...In parts of Glasgow, a former shipbuilding hub of 600,000 people and home to Scotland's poorest areas, the average life expectancy for a man is 69.3 years, the lowest in the U.K., according to the Office for National Statistics. A boy born in the district of Calton can expect to die at 54 and is three times more likely to suffer from heart disease than someone in a prosperous Glasgow suburb, the Scotsman newspaper reported on Jan. 4, citing health service data....Deaths from liver cirrhosis, often caused by excessive alcohol consumption, are twice that of other European countries, the Lancet, a U.K. medical journal, said Jan. 5. Cirrhosis mortality in Scottish men more than doubled between 1987 and 1991 and the 1997 to 2001 period. "The weather's always grey and it gets you down,'' said Peter MacFarlane, 23, an unemployed resident of Glasgow. "So you just grab a pint and a burger.''

Battered, deep-fried Mars bars? There's a country with some SERIOUS issues. I agree with the Scottish dietary and health campaign, because there are no prohibitions involved, just warnings. As for salt alone, the scientific research is still somewhat inconclusive on whether it really increases health risks, but there's a pretty good chance it does, and herbs and spices used in place of too much salt are actually good for you (think cayenne, garlic ginger, for instance). More to the point, heavily-salted foods are usually quite high in fat, and low in nutrition.

Since I know you're dying for it, here's a low-salt haggis recipe. Although it's not exactly low-fat. Chase with some single malt.


08:45 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2006

Pro-Lifers Spell Death for Republican Party

President Bush told protestors at the annual anti-abortion "March For Life" yesterday in Washington, D.C. their cause was "noble" and that would help them prevail. With Samuel Alito headed for Supreme Court confirmation, plus state legislatures eyeing sweeping anti-abortion laws, and even pro-life bloggers holding a major symposium on spreading their message, it appears that momentum is building. But pushing for Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade - and the resultant outlawing of abortion - will hasten a slow, painful death for The Republican Party. This most difficult choice is for the individual and the family, those societal players in which Republicans claim to want to invest so much faith and responsibility. A blanket ban on abortion is simply not the government's, nor the judiciary's, legitimate business.

By pushing this extremist social conservative agenda, the far right wing of the Republican Party will set the GOP back decades, forcing an exodus from the party of the people who can and should comprise the right "base," the sane moderate base of the future GOP.

Who are these people? What makes them - what makes me - Republican? We are strong on national security and the fight against terrorism; we support expanded school choice, and a massive fiscal overhaul of the federal government. We champion family and individual in place of victimology and statist intervention in the social arena. We favor economic growth, relish the idea of America competing in a globalized economy, and approach environmental issues from the center, not the extremes. We abhor the litmus tests of the fundamentalists in both major political parties.

I don't belong to any country club, but you will see me walking down Main Street. And I'm pro-choice but not pro-abortion.

Parental notification laws make perfect sense to me, and beyond that, parents have a deep responsibility to educate their teenagers about abstinence, personal responsibility, and yes, contraception. The whole, simplistic abortion-on-demand ethic of old-school Democrats and coathanger-brandishing paleo-feminists such as Whoopi Goldberg is deeply misguided, but the fact is, the government has no business interfering in what is a deeply personal matter.

Christine Todd Whitman is a former two-term Republican Governor of New Jersey, and former EPA head under Bush 43. I just finished reading her book, "It's My Party, Too," and liked what she had to say about the Religious Right and its social agenda, including abortion.

I would never seek to exclude people of any religious faith from participating in our civic life. But neither should people of faith seek to impose their religious tenets, through the instruments of government, on their fellow citizens. Such efforts are simply inconsistent with America's traditions, as well as those of the Republican Party.

In the current issue of Time, Nancy Gibbs writes about "Abortion's Middle Ground." She recalls being able to:

....turn on Larry King and watch a conservative Republican Vice President admit that if his daughter ever got pregnant, if her life or health or happiness were a stake, well, "I hope I never have to deal with it. But obviously I would counsel her and talk to her and support her on whatever decision she made."

These journeys of course, are typical, which is why the public debate has shifted so much in the years since Roe. Many women who once defended the right to life or the right to choose as automatic and unfreighted have matured through their own experiences and those of their friends. It is increasingly common for Democratic candidates who would once have allowed not the least ethical elasticity into their positions to embrace the careful Clinton Construct: that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. When extremists on the right suggest that liberals view abortion as not just a right but practically a sport, or extremists on the left suggest that there is nothing deeply personal at stake here, only political, they are operating outside the region where I think the rest of us have landed. We have conducted, over the course of 33 years, a long and often painful tutorial that works every moral muscle. I don't know if demonstrations ever really change people minds. But life's lessons very often do.

I'll reiterate: Republicans must resist the demands of the hard right "base" and begin to create a new and ultimately more promising base built around national security, defecit erasure, small government, self reliance, strong two-parent families, school choice and high academic standards, workforce preparedness and economic growth. If social conservatives want to litmus-test abortion and not vote for Republicans who won't back their extremist agenda, they'll just have to find out the hard way that they can't sit on their hands for long.


12:33 PM | Comments (7)

Conservatives Win Tempered Mandate In Canada

Conservative party candidate Stephen Harper has been elected Prime Minister of Canada over scandal-plagued, Bush-bashing incumbent, Liberal Paul Martin.

While it wasn't the blue tidal wave majority Harper had hoped for in the dying days of the 56-day campaign, it marked a major return from near extinction in 1993 when the Conservatives were left with two seats....Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay said the Tories are chomping at the bit to get back to work, and said Canadians will be impressed with their talent. "This is very much a party of the future. It's more inclusive, it has more youth, more diversity than any party in the House of Commons," MacKay beamed last night shortly after being declared a winner for the fourth time in his Central Nova riding.

....Liberals gathered to mourn their loss at a Montreal hall last night, many saying they were relived they weren't wiped off the electoral map altogether, and pledging to rebuild their party into a stronger force. Senator Francis Fox, who advised Martin during the campaign, expressed surprise at Harper's ability to attract Quebec voters and win seats.

Harper, 46, becomes the first prime minister from outside Quebec in 27 years. He was elected leader of the Conservative Party in March 2004 after leading a merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance. After growing up in Toronto, he worked as a computer analyst in the Alberta oilpatch before doing his BA and MA in economics from the University of Calgary.

After yesterday's elections his fellow Tories hold the largest bloc in parliament, but a minority overall.

Implementing his agenda will be a tricky balancing act. The Globe and Mail says if Harper wants more than one term, he'll have to keep his party's social conservative tendencies at least somewhat in check.

Which is desirable anyway. Fiscal, ethics and governance reforms are paramount. In broad terms at least, that's quite similar to a chunk of the U.S. national agenda. It's just that we've just got this one little extra thing on our plate that Mark Steyn has been thinking about a lot lately: preserving Western civilization.


08:45 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2006

Israel, Palestine: Interfaith Forums Can Aid Settlement

Today was the last day of campaigning before Wednesday's election for all 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament. It's the historically corrupt but now supposedly repentant Fatah party versus the haters of Israel and Judaism (Hamas), with Palestinian Jihad (the hard-core nutballs) boycotting the vote. More here from the New York Times. But however things shake out, calcified attitudes and perceptions must change through an interfaith dialog involving Jews and Muslims, in order to move toward a settlement of the protracted dispute between Palestine and Israel over co-existing homelands for each.

So say Judea Pearl, a UCLA artificial intelligence professor and father of the slain-by-Muslim extremists Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Akbar Ahmed, former high commissioner from Pakistan to the U.K., and chair of the Islamic Studies program at American University in Washington, D.C. The two have been conducting town hall-style meetings for the last two-and-a-half years in the U.S., Canada and England, on the underpinnings of a resolution, which they outline in this guest op-ed for The Daily Star of Lebanon titled, "For Jews And Muslims, Time To Find Common Ground." You need to read the whole piece, especially the religious common ground that is articulated. But here are some of the main tenets:

... Jews would like unambiguous statements condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance. Muslim communities need to take a clear moral stand regarding anti-Semitism, whatever their feelings about the politics of the Middle East....Muslims would like to convey to Jews that the religious basis for rejecting anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in Islamic civilization...(and extol) Islam's attitudes toward and practice of democracy, human rights and civil liberties....Here the example of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan....is illuminating. Jinnah was the embodiment of parliamentary democracy and believed in human rights and respect for the law. He achieved the creation of Pakistan in1947, then the largest Muslim nation on earth, without ever breaking the law.

OK, I'll not make any snarky comments about all the madrassas and Islamo-kooks infesting Pakistan now. There are problems there to be sure, but also some hope.

...Jews must be given a clear understanding of where Muslims stand on Israel....Framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a clash between two legitimate national movements is a crucial step for constructive discussion of the issue....Muslims point out that there is a growing sense of Islamophobia in the West that allows the prophet of Islam and the religion itself to be attacked with impunity....Unfortunately, many Muslims perceive the Islamophobia as a creation of Jews, and there is a conspiracy-theory mindset that tends to blame Jews for the ills of the Muslim world. Jewish leaders must be more active and visible in the fight against Islamophobia. Muslim leaders, in turn, must help dispel unfounded conspiracy theories.

.....on the issue of terrorism, Jews would like to hear Muslim leaders take an unequivocal moral stand, against both the perpetrators of terrorist acts and the ideologues and legitimizers of such acts - in particular, suicide bombings against Israelis. The red line against the targeting of innocent lives cannot be crossed for any grievance.

But an election result Wednesday favoring Hamas will send a very opposite message, and dampen any serious chances for progress. This is really a referendum on whether Palestinians prefer more self-inflicted misery, an ever more pitiful martyr pool, or a real chance at nationhood, even granted that affirming Fatah at the polls guarantees nothing.

Vote smart, Palestine.

And wouldn't it be something to see public - yes, public - interfaith conversations in Jerusalem and Gaza, like those held by Pearl and Ahmed elsewhere?

There may also be a message in here for echo-chamber bloggers and pundits on both sides of the controversy, that in this intractable dispute, continuing to merely focus on the faults and transgressions of the other is not enough. Of course, it's true no progress can occur if the Palestinian suicide attacks continue, and jihadists continue their nihilistic, ill-fated assault on Western culture. But Pearl and Akbar have done well to pinpoint some of the core psychologies which fuel the dispute. For once, understanding and deconstructing feelings and perceptions - specifically those which have erected walls between Muslims and Jews - could actually have real value.


08:18 PM | Comments (1)

Steroid Dosage Adjusted On Rosenblog Comment Filter


Folks, a heads-up, and apology: I unintentionally had my Moveable Type 3.2 comment filter phasers set, not exactly on "stun," but higher than I wanted. And as a result, legit comments have recently been getting stopped and auto-deleted, along with the voluminous comment spam that - thanks to my filter - will never again be auto-published here. I'm very glad the commercial comment spam isn't getting through, and believe commercial comment spammers - usually peddling vile products, to boot - will surely roast in the eternal fires of hell. But I am dismayed I have blocked any non-commercial comments.

However, I have fixed things now, so please, non-spammers, comment away. And if you left a non-spam comment that didn't show up here, please accept my apologies. I welcome your comments, in fact, look forward to them. As I've always stressed, dissent is welcome.

DO be apprised there will still be a brief hold period (no longer than overnight, usually much sooner). I check the filtered comment interface regularly and will green flag for publication any on-topic, non-obscene, non-spam comment on any post's comment string. Again, that includes dissent.

You may want to focus primarily on the most recent (main page) posts for your comments, because I am considering inserting code, or taking other steps to ban the voluminous spam comments submitted on the older posts. (Many bloggers will know what I am talking about - the older posts are where the comment spammers usually go, figuring that unless the blogger has a good filter or a "recent comments" listing on the main page, their junk comments will fly in under the radar, and boost their Google algorithmic ratings, which are based, very roughly-speaking, on amount of Internet real estate occupied, and each recipient site's reach.)

It may make sense to ban all comments on the older posts - as many bloggers have started to do - because even though my recently-activated filter prevents spam comments on these older posts from appearing on the blog, I still have to remove the spam from my filter interface, and that takes time.

Bottom line: non-spammers, please comment away, especially on the current main page posts.


12:48 PM | Comments (1)

Liberals Face Likely Drubbing Today In Canada

After 13 years of Liberal party rule; dysfunctional and costly governance; and one absurd episode after another; Canadians today may sweep that ruling party out of office. At least, that's what some polls - like this one - suggest. Voters will choose a prime minister and parliament. There are three main parties, the Liberals, conservatives and the "progressive" NDP, plus the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens. Canadian blogger and political analyst Pieter Dorsman has some projections on the post-election make-up of parliament and some of his usual trenchant insights, here on what's gone wrong for Martin and the Liberals. The Toronto Sun gives 218 reasons not to vote for the Liberals. Oops make that 219.

The Edmonton Sun gives a ringing endorsement to Conservative candidate for prime minister, Stephen Harper. He'll be a real friend to the U.S., in contrast to the bristling disdain of our country and president emanating from Martin. Even Canadian columnists who clearly dislike Bush think Martin lost his marbles by airing an ad suggesting election of Bush-friendly Harper spells Canadian martial law.

Liberal flailing persists, though: The Vancouver Sun reports that Martin's surrogates embarked on a last-ditch scare campaign against Harper on the abortion issue, but, as the story notes, he and his party have taken a firm pro-choice position. Besides, as U.S. Democrats learned, even as recently as the Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, the issue runs a bit deeper than the simple-minded liberal insistence on abortion on demand. Defining it solely in those terms reinforces misgivings key swing voters have about harsh liberal dogma.


09:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

Chikan Victims Silent No More

I've blogged before here about some of the cultural ephemera attendant to Japanese sexual life: their "Love Hotels;" and also the odious and pathetic train gropers of urban Japan, known as chikan, middle-aged businessmen with busy hands. Crammed cars allow sneaky liberites with women passengers - and they've turned it into an art, forming clubs to share techniques (I kid you not), and keeping score of their "conquests." Now there are even Internet "gropers guilds (see last link in this post) where chikan can learn the best train lines and times for groping. Their perverted persistence led to deployment of women-only subway cars on some lines last year.

Now, the Georgia Straits alternative weekly in Vancouver reports of a typically bleeding-edge play being staged locally about a young Japanese woman who is a powerless victim of chikan.

In the train incident, the young woman finds herself unable to protest due to gender roles. The script makes it clear that her acquiescence is expected. The recorded voice that says things such as “Please step away from the door” also intones, “Please be aware that this happens to 64 percent of Japanese women between the ages of 19 and 40” and “Please be aware that no one will ever admit to witnessing what just happened.”

But it turns out that this part of the current trendy play - titled "Sexual Practices Of The Japanese" - was already outdated last month, as I discovered the other day doing a Google News search for "chikan." The Times of London reports that just before Christmas, a young woman being groped by a chikan on an Osaka train caught and confronted him, and what ensued after that was quite remarkable.

A commuter who allegedly groped a college girl on a crowded train collapsed and died after being chased along a platform by fellow passengers. The 40-year-old office worker fled the train when it pulled into a station after the student screamed and accused him of groping her bottom and legs. Four male passengers, including two off-duty policemen, gave chase, bringing him to the ground as he tried to escape. He died later in hospital from a heart attack.

The incident took place on the morning rush-hour express on the Hanwa Line to central Osaka — a spectacularly crowded commuter route that has become one of the most notorious hunting grounds of Japan’s reviled chikan, or railway gropers. As the packed carriage pulled into Tennoji station, the student is said to have shrieked loudly, grabbed her alleged chikan by the shoulder and told fellow passengers what had happened. Instead of ignoring her plight, as Japanese commuters routinely do, fellow passengers decided to take the law into their own hands.

The incident has highlighted the widespread problem of groping on trains in Japan. But the ferocity of the other passengers’ reaction has also sounded alarm bells. Male Japanese commuters appear to have been stirred to a new mood of chivalry by a hugely popular TV drama, in which a woman falls in love with the man who rescued her from a drunken chikan. Until yesterday that mood had not translated into vigilante-style incidents.

Naturally, the artsy take on chikan in Vancouver emphasizes the helplessness of the victim. But it seems perhaps the paradigm is shifting. Of course, try that on an American commuter train or bus, and you'd get your nuts handed to you. Appropriately so, I'd add.

These chikan fellows are all probably hooked on Internet porn, as well. Sad. Many are doubtless in marriages of convenience that have fizzled out, and turn to such kinks thusly. The life of the "salaryman" is bleak in many respects. But his wife's is probably worse.


07:49 PM | Comments (1)

Combat Chic - The Fashionable Response To Terrorism

The United States is fighting a war to preserve liberty
and protect the world from terrorism. Other nations
dress up male models in stylized military garb to
parade before the fashion press.

From Men's Fashion Week in Milan, earlier this month,
this outfit neatly conveys the readiness of France,
Spain, Italy and Germany to defeat the jihadists.

Then there's this au courant lover of liberty, grittily
soldiering through fashion week in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

This guy, I'm told, commanded an
Italian unit for a few weeks, early
on, in Iraq.


12:21 PM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2006

Another Lefty Hatchet Job From Hollywood

In Hollywood-produced films, when conservatives do make an appearance, they're usually charicatures of the far right, and maybe pathological sleazebags, to boot. Religious zealots, scheming demagogoues, nasty backroom wheeler-dealers, corrupt scientists advancing the cause of corrupt corporations. You get the picture. Suburbanites fare little better: they're painted as materialistic morons, or zombied child molesters. On a good day.

So, the latest in the celluloid culture wars stars a mad Ronald Reagan fan on a population-cleansing mission.

SANTA CRUZ — It's apparent that locals are doing a decent job of keeping Santa Cruz weird. The area's pot-smoking, organic food-eating, hippie reputation will take center stage in a Hollywood horror flick about a man with a penchant for Ronald Reagan and the free market who's on a crusade to oust a bunch of Santa Cruz-types from society. The movie, "The Tripper," is being directed by David Arquette — better known for his role in the "Scream" series and marrying "Friends" uber-star Courtney Cox. The film includes lesser-known actors such as Balthazar Getty of the television show "Alias" and Paul Reubens, who has mostly been out of the limelight since his days as the character Pee Wee Herman in the 1980s.

"The Tripper" needs about 200 extra cast members, and casting calls will be held in Santa Cruz and Boulder Creek on Monday. The casting crew will be looking for those with body piercings, tattoos, beards and anything else off-beat and iconic of this left-leaning surf town, associate producer Cheryl Spencer said. A casting call for extras held Monday at Digital Media Factory on Mission Street Extension produced only a handful of participants. The extras are expected to be part of a large audience attending an outdoor music festival in which they find themselves being stalked by the Reagan fan and his killer dog Nancy.

Great setting, in Santa Cruz: a progressive, compassionate, well-managed city, if ever there was one. Satire, humor and "horror" flicks provide convenient cover for political dogma, of course. The Reaganaut wants to "oust...from society" the Santa Cruz hippies. Intolerance, obsession, evil, killer dog, Reagan, free markets.

Not so hidden message: support for free markets lead to obsessive stalking of harmless hippies. Guess I'm ready for a state-managed economy, then.

Think I'll wait 'till it goes to DVD. Which won't be long, thanks to the force of the, ah, free market. And what's up with the low turnout at the casting call for Santa Cruz slackers, anyway? Were they all working - or just surfing?


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:38 AM | Comments (2)

January 19, 2006

U.S. College Students Fairly Dim Bulbs

I've blogged before about the slack skills of today's college students: teachers and business leaders are worried. With funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, The American Institutes For Research has investigated literacy among four-year college students nearing the end of their studies. It turns out we're graduating some fairly dim bulbs these days. More in this AP report:

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks. That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school. The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

"It is kind of disturbing that a lot of folks are graduating with a degree and they're not going to be able to do those things," said Stephane Baldi, the study's director at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research organization. "....do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and nonpartisan group. "This sends a message that we should be monitoring this as a nation, and we don't do it," Finney said. "States have no idea about the knowledge and skills of their college graduates."

The survey examined college and university students nearing the end of their degree programs. The students did the worst on matters involving math, according to the study. Almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station. About 30 percent of two-year students had only basic math skills. Baldi and Finney said the survey should be used as a tool. They hope state leaders, educators and university trustees will examine the rigor of courses required of all students.

Michael Kryzanek would like that. In a recent Boston Globe op-ed titled "Dumbing Down A College Education," he observed:

A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that only 31 percent of college graduates could read a ''complex book and extrapolate from it." Furthermore, the study found that far fewer college graduates are leaving school with ''the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity."....I would be lying to you if I said that I was surprised by the data. My more than 30 years of teaching in higher education at Bridgewater State College and elsewhere, and frequent discussions with colleagues from a wide range of colleges and universities, both public and private, tell me the findings are accurate. That only 31 percent of the college graduates qualified as ''proficient" in reading and understanding information is sad but all too believable.

The United States is recognized as having the world's best system of higher education, but that does not mean that the system is graduating students who are prepared to understand the world or, more importantly, have benefited from the wisdom of the greater thinkers, writers, scientists, and historians while they were occupying space in classrooms.

In coming decades our white-collar workforce and innovators will have to face hungrier and better-educated competitors from India, Ireland, Israel and Istanbul. We'll need MORE top-level players, who not only have killer business instincts, but know readin' writin' and 'rithmatic, too. To ramp up the volume will require more rigor in K-12 and higher education. Far easier said than done, but it all goes back to curricula.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

Impeachment Fantasy Must End

L.A. Weekly columnist Marc Cooper has some tough luv for fellow "progressives:" get off this ridiculous Bush impeachment jag, crawl out of your hermetically-sealed echo chamber, and confront your opponents on the issues. His exemplar? None other than Al Gore, who's been on a roll lately - at least for Al Gore. Here's Cooper:

Impeachment fever has officially broken out, and it makes the avian flu look like a two-day head cold. The primary symptoms are sustained delusional bouts that lead the victims to imagine that a Republican-controlled Congress — on the eve of midterm elections, no less — would actually indict and convict a sitting president from its own party. The infection first broke out on the Web — the primary cases detected in places like Democrats.com or AfterDowningStreet.org. This week the epidemic has spread to public spaces — to rented church halls and town meetings — where the infected gather and collectively visualize Chief Justice John Roberts putting George W. Bush on trial. If you happen to stumble into one of these gatherings of the infirm, make sure to first put on your hazmat suits. Even a double-dose of Tamiflu will be rendered useless by the ferocity of this disease.

In their delirium, the feverishly infected have forgotten that impeachment is not a legal or moral matter but strictly one of congressional political majorities...Yet, here we go again with another in a never-ending series of self-parodying minuets, an umpteenth dance by a gaggle of anti-Bush forces intent on doing everything they can to get rid of him except the one guaranteed thing that really works — winning elections. You win those elections by building new majorities and not by humoring yourself with emotionally satisfying but politically impossible fantasies.

...In the dire political circumstances we face, the only thing I find more depressing, more maddening than walking into a Young Republican convention, is schlepping to one more forum, one more panel discussion, one more prayer-meeting-like convocation of Outraged Liberals who piss away a Tuesday or Wednesday night by mightily concurring with each other about the horror, the horror of it all.

Why not try, for once, what Al Gore has started doing? Why not show the courage and the initiative to go out there and talk to all those other people who might not agree with you? Go, Al, go (gulp).

Yes, as you'll see in Cooper's column, Gore has confronted opponents. but his issues - domestic surveillance and global warming - aren't really winners: in fact, they're part and parcel of the losing Democratic strategy in presidential elections.

Economic growth, strong families, national security and defecit-cutting are the kinds of issues any successful Democratic presidential candidate will have to speak to, convincingly.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 08:38 AM | Comments (1)

January 18, 2006

Nix On Bible Classes In Georgia Public Schools

Proposed optional bible classes in Georgia public schools are a bad idea. The intent is to look at how the Bible has influenced literature, art and culture. This might be termed the "inside-out" approach, but I prefer "outside-in." There's plenty of literature, art, politics, history, and even science and epistemology topics - including the controversial notion of "intelligent design" versus pure, insufficient Darwinism - which highlight religion without the overt cultural missionary agenda.

Additionally, the choice of this particular holy book smacks of exclusivity. Once a precedent is set with voluntary public school classes on the influence of the Bible, are not the state, and local school districts then compelled to also authorize voluntary classes on the influence of The Koran, The Old Testament, The Talmud, the teachings of Confucious, and Wiccan texts?

I'd sure be all for a comparative religions class, though, as an advanced placement offering in high schools.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 04:13 PM | Comments (1)

The Upside Of Global Warming

Why all the gloom and doom around global warming? It's an upbeat story, and rich with nuance. Here's what we get.

More sardines in Monterey Bay.

More protection from skin cancer.

Moderate Left gets chance to look reasonable.

Al Gore re-branding vehicle.

Doomsayer gets valuable publicity for new book.

Inspiration for school outreach by Montana poet-activists.

Helps drive development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

A better and higher use for algae.

Sinister nature of plants, trees revealed.

Bovine menace finally evident.

Claxon sounds! The oceans have been rising at two millimeters a year for the last 250 years, versus one millimeter a year for the preceeding 5,000 years.

Boon for eco-correct childless couples, and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

Man's finite powers considered.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2006

Ray Nagin, Chocolatier

When New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a Martin Luther King Jr. Day audience it was God's will for the city to once again become "chocolate" as post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding continues, he didn't mean what everyone thought he meant. Nagin explains, the BBC reports. You decide:

He said he had not meant that it should be an all-black metropolis, asking: "How do you make chocolate? "You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he told CNN.

Ray, as long as we're talking chocolate and urban demographics, I've got a few suggestions on future flavor paradigms for The Big Easy.

Probably the best candy metaphor in New Orleans would be chocolate that's green, the color of enterprise. That would symbolize a new drive to end broken families, rampant crime, and the entitlement mentality; as well as to reform public schools. Why, I can see the "Green Chocolate" marketing campaign unfolding nationwide, to supplement private philanthropy and government aid. Lemonade from lemons; all that.

While we're at it, let's at least give credit to Nagin for identifying some the underlying local dysfunctionality in his controversial speech, even if his post-Katrina performance has been largely unhinged and dismal. Although he foolishly dragged God into it - and a cheap shot against the Iraq War - he nonetheless hit on some important self-help themes, as The Telegraph reports:

"Surely God is mad at America," Mr Nagin, himself black, said at a ceremony to mark Martin Luther King Day. "He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and it's destroyed and put stress on this country. Surely He's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretences. But surely He's upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves, we're not taking care of our women, and we're not taking care of our children. What are we doing? Why is black-on-black crime such an issue? Why do our young men hate each other so much that they look their brother in the face and they will take a gun and kill him in cold blood?" His diagnosis of the moral health of America's blacks, while bluntly expressed, is one shared by many political and church leaders. The comedian Bill Cosby has also voiced them in the past.

But it was the mayor's thoughts on the future racial make-up of the city - and his choice of language - that prompted the most disquiet. "It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," Mr Nagin said. "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way."

Unfortunately, now he's lumped in with Pat Robertson. Best advice for Nagin comes from Ed Renwick, director of the Institute of Politics at Loyola University: Remember that whatever audience you're in front of is only a slice of your larger, global audience.

Nagin's conduct and leadership will affect global charitable giving for New Orleans reconstruction, and national and state politics politics underlying reconstruction policy decisions.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 06:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2006

Careful With That Soul Shake, White Boy

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl says inter-racial handshakes can be tricky, especially when white guys presume that the right way to greet a black man is with the 60s-vintage "soul" shake (forearm bent upward at forty-five degree angle, thumb raised, then laid on). Here's more (free reg. req.):

White men sometimes aren't sure if they should do a traditional business handshake when they greet black men. It seems so bland and stiff. And black men often don't know what the heck is coming when they shake hands with white men, at least outside of a business setting. They brace themselves while a hand flies at them, ready for a triple axel of grasping and releasing.

It looks so cool when, say, Carson Daly and Kanye West do it on TV, but it's more like a bad hand collision in real life. "And it's a collision of embarrassment," said one of my African-American consultants for this column, Journal Sentinel assistant managing editor for sports, Garry Howard....(He) keeps a close eye on the other guy's approach....if the arm is more tipped upward, Howard will quickly adjust and move in thumb-first for what another of my consultants called "a soul shake." It's basically the same peace and love hippie-type shake we did in the 1960s to show our parents we rejected their way of doing things. You still see old white friends greet each other that way, even if somewhat ironically. Anyway, that shake may or may not be followed by the sliding of the hands and an additional grasp of the fingertips and a pop on the release. This takes some practice. Or it could lead to the very popular bumping of right chest to right chest and the quick one-handed hug and back pat.

But any miscalculation at all and you've got a mishmash of fingers and uneven gripping. Definitely not cool. Tyrone Dumas, project manager of diversity and community engagement for Milwaukee Public Schools, knows what I'm talking about. "I always tell people to never come into a situation assuming people would do it different than you do it," he said. "Never presume there is a special handshake."

Good advice, in all respects. Tech bloggers: are you listening? Speak English, wouldja? Or is it all about "private club" status? And white guys, listen up, OK?

"Many brothers aren't really cool these days sharing the soul shake with folks that fail to mirror them ethnically. They feel that our blue-eyed soul brothers are condescending or just trying too hard to be hip when offering the soul shake unless there's a past relationship there," said Anthony D. Smith, who works in my newspaper's marketing department.

He's right. The relationship is key. My best soul handshake ever, ironically, occured totally spontaneously, between myself and a good friend named Susan Creamer, a very white, red-haired, freckled woman from New Hampshire, whom I got to know attending Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. A fellow jazzbo, funkateer and free spirit from the campus radio station - so, no wonder. It just happened one day in between classes on an outdoor stairway, and went on for a good 30 seconds. The amazing thing was we had no idea what we were doing, but as it moved through four stages, we were perfectly in synch.

Susan, if you're out there somewhere.....Just know that I remember that like it was yesterday. Could it be the best soul shakes involving honkies are with other honkies? I'd like to think not, but........

Anyway, the far greater concern is people who can't even manage a regular handshake; they give you the 'ol limp fish, and you wonder: WTF? Then there are the over-compensating bonecrushers. All you need to know about handshakes are in this post, at John Carlton's Big Damn Blog.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

Goose Poop Solution Elusive

A "goose population" problem is another way of referring to a "goose poop" problem, and many towns and cities have one, including Seattle. Oakland's got it bad, and New York's Central Park, too. Humans certainly bear some responsibility.

Several decades back, when Canada Geese populations were languishing, we reintroduced them to urban settings, and now their numbers have soared. Why? One factor: like utter dolts, we feed them bread and other yummies. Then we can barely walk in the resultant poop. The first part makes us feel good, and "connected to nature" - although of course in nature, animals find their own food. We've subsidized their diet in other ways. Urban parks, with grasses geese love to eat, are perfectly situated: near water (ponds, etc.) but away from natural predators. It's a recipe for....recreational land asset desecration. The point is not to bemoan urban parks; they're crucial. But we must better, ah, "manage" goose populations.

Portions of Seattle's Green Lake Park are virtually unuseable due to goose poop, as are many beaches and the water on Seattle's eastern shores bordering Lake Washington. Seward Park, a large urban park and forest with Lake Washington public beaches, on Seattle's southeast side, is particularly afflicted with goose poop; all over the grass near the park's entrance, and on the swimming beach, and the south-facing, Mount-Rainier-view waterfront.

And Seattle is supposed to have "solved" its goose poop problem. Countless other parks nationwide are similarly afflicted.

Solutions include border collies, chemicals on the grass, expanded hunting, and expanded state powers to do things such as addle eggs and destroy nests.

In Seattle, authorities managed to get clearance to gas to death thousands of geese in special trucks, for several years. Success was declared, but they're back in force, and some 100,000 are expected here by 2014.

It's really very simple. If my neighbor wants to let his back yard remain full of dog poop, or goose poop, that is his business. It is no imposition on me.

However, if my city wishes to allow the same conditions in public park lands, the purchase and maintenance of which are borne by our household, and other property tax payers, I am suffering a severe imposition by not being able to walk, sit or otherwise recreate on the grass, or use the feces-infested beach or swimming area.

Parks are for human recreation; they are not intended to become goose bathrooms, even by default.

It's a man eat goose world out there. I don't know about you, but I know which side I'm on. Bring back the goose gas chambers to Seattle; or at least packs of border collies. Maybe, just maybe, we also need our own, large-scale West Coast foie gras operation - if pre-emptive legislation can be defeated. Some Aussie bounty hunters should be in the mix, too. They sure know what to do about rampaging 'roos, I'll say that.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2006

Biden's Bombastic Blather

In the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) has solidified his status as that body's pre-eminent gasbag. Delaware Online reports:

Reporters began clocking Sen. Joe Biden's questions with stopwatches. Pundits began speculating that the Delaware Democrat's biggest political handicap might be his mouth. The Samuel Alito confirmation hearings should have been a place for the former Judiciary Committee chairman to shine. Here was a national forum, a chance for Biden, who has presidential aspirations, to strut his stuff to a larger-than-usual cable audience. It didn't quite work out that way. First, Biden insulted a university. Then his long-winded questioning style drew ridicule from columnists and late-night talk show hosts....Senators are a long-winded bunch, but even in that company, Biden's reputation for bloviation stands out.

...It wasn't just the talking that got Biden in trouble, sometimes it was the topic. "I don't like Princeton," he announced to Alito, a Princeton alumnus. The next day, the Princeton student newspaper reprinted a 2004 speech in which Biden had expressed his love for Princeton. Biden donned a Princeton hat the next day and confirmed he did like the college. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen devoted his entire column to Biden's gift for gab, warning that it could wreck his 2008 presidential ambitions.

Here's some of Cohen's piquant wordsmithery on Biden:

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth. That, though, is no small matter. It is a Himalayan barrier, a Sahara of a handicap, a summer's day in Death Valley, a winter's night at the pole (either one) -- an endless list of metaphors intended to show you both the immensity of the problem and to illustrate it with the op-ed version of excess. This, alas, is Joe Biden.

....The tragedy is that Biden, who is running for president, is a much better man and senator than these accounts would suggest. But his tendency, his compulsion, his manic-obsessive running of the mouth has become the functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency. It is his version of corruption, of alcoholism, of a fierce temper or vile views -- all the sorts of things that have crippled candidates in the past. It is, though, an innocent thing, as good-humored as the man and of no real policy consequence. It will merely stunt him politically. 'Tis a pity. Biden occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party.

Though an extreme case, Biden is not alone in posturing and preening during committee hearings. It rather goes with the territory. That's why I automatically tune out these events, and have to laugh at all the attendant tea-leaf reading and pontifications of the chattering classes. Look, it's simple: Roe v. Wade will never be overturned; in all cases, justices will approppriately formulate their votes on a case-by-case basis whatever their guiding principles; and the rest is all noise.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)

Rosenblog Opinion Review, Vol. 10

Tim Carvell, New York Times: "A Million Little Corrections."

David S. Oderberg, San Francisco Chronicle: "The Unholy Lust Of Scientists."

Joel Connelly, Seattle {Post-Intelligencer: "Canada Appears Likely To Take A Sharp Turn Right."

Charles Adler, Toronto Sun: "Different Kind Of Canada, Anyone?"

Frank Fitzgibbon, Sunday Times: "The Great Icons Of Irleand."

James Harkin, The Guardian: "A Bias Towards Boys Is Unbalancing Asia."

Jonathan Mirsky, International Herald Tribune: "China's Tyranny Has The Best High-Tech Help."

Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle: "This Is Your Brain On Tech."

Philadelphia Inquirer, editorial: "Philly, It's Your Turn" (on public indoor smoking ban).

Monterey Herald, editorial: "Death Penalty Here For Now."

Peter Vaernet, San Francisco Chronicle: "Safe Neighborhoods Begin With Good Parenting."

Harry Jaffe, Washington Examiner: "It's Time To Ferry Barry Out Of Town."

Kevin Brass, Austin Chronicle: "Snoring Out Loud: 'Statesman' Blunders With Bland Blogging."

Tim O'Brien, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Blogs Ought To Be More Than Partisan Hatchet Jobs."

Jay Ambrose, Washington Examiner: "Thea-tricks Overshadow Debate" (Bush Impeachment).


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2006

The "Affluent Beggars" Of Ashland

They started in Madison, Wisconsin, and have found more sympathetic souls off which to unapologetically leech in the upscale, ultra-liberal southern Oregon town of Ashland, known for its world famous Shakespeare festival. Jason Pancoast and Elizabeth Johnson have got it made. Their kids, essential to the "money for nothing" scam they run, are doing pretty well too.

Pancoast refers to himself and his family as "affluent beggars." "If you’re an affluent beggar you stay in a hotel and eat a continental breakfast," he says.

"It makes it a lot easier to be philosophical about it."...The family has stayed in Ashland since the summer in order for Seth (one of their children) to attend the Waldorf-inspired experimental classes at Willow Wind, part of the Ashland public school system.

"They are a lovely family," says Seth’s teacher, Trisha Mullinnix, who has been working with children for 25 years. "They fill all the needs of the classroom teacher — they are attentive, they come to school on time, they are available to me to talk to them. Seth is loving and happy and well fed and clean. He comes prepared to learn." The family is staying at the Cedarwood Inn in a room with a kitchenette. It costs $243 a week. Johnson and Pancoast are hoping to find something more permanent. According to Pancoast, begging can be lucrative. He claims the family sometimes makes $300 a day asking for money and has made as much as $800. The family also receives $500 a month in food stamps.

But the presence of a well-fed, well-dressed family begging from strangers on the streets does not sit well with some Ashland locals, though none who spoke with the Mail Tribune would allow themselves to be identified.

I'm glad their kids are well fed, and the parents responsive to the school. But they're teaching their kids a rotten lesson in the end, about abusing the perception of need. It says something that no one in the original Medford Mail Tribune story (first link in this post) would allow their full name to be used. Afraid of seeming "not compassionate" enough? Sheesh. This gets to the heart of the matter: enablement borne of liberal guilt. It is the good people of Ashland who are showering the family with an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 a year, even though it's now clear they are also getting food stamps, and more importantly, making no effort to get by on their own.

In this follow-up story from AP, a former mayor and a local housing agency head are quoted by their full names, commenting critically on the family's scam. Apparently, they could qualify for local housing assistance, but only by demonstrating income from a legit job.

It's clear to me that both parents have a bright future in sales; maybe multi-level marketing.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:26 AM | Comments (6)

January 13, 2006

The Pastoral Side Of Jimbo Traficant

Like others before him, a jailed Congressional rogue - still in denial about his misdeeds - has discovered the healing power of painting in prison.

Here's the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Former U.S. Rep. James Traficant is known to most people for his toupee, bombast and penchant for accepting bribes.

Now, for less than $200, you can purchase a softer side of the maverick Youngstown-area Democrat - the one who spends his time in federal prison painting scenes of pastoral tranquility and equine majesty.

Traficant was forced out of Congress after he was convicted of racketeering and bribery in 2002 and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Twelve paintings ranging in price from $140 to $205 are for sale at www.beamme- upart.com.

(The site's name comes from Traficant's....ending his rambling speeches with: "Beam me up!")

The paintings are done in watercolors or acrylic.

Traficant mails the paintings to an anonymous supporter who sells them over the Internet.

According to the Web site, the profits from the paintings will be used to buy Traficant more art supplies.

Local painter and art critic Doug Utter found the paintings lacking.

"There's no overwhelming talent or expertise in evidence."

And Utter noted that Traficant, who was easily recognizable by his oversize wig, draws the horses with flowing hair.

"His emphasis on manes and tails is almost fetishistic," Utter said.

But apparently, there are some political fetishists - er, savvy investors - out there.

Since the Plain Dealer article ran two days ago, Traficant's paintings have sold out at the supporter's site, and two more are bid up to the $600-$700 range right now on e-Bay. Get in on the action, if you like: here, and here.

Hurry. Bidding ends Monday.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:55 PM | Comments (1)

The Real Message From Iran Is On U.S. Energy Policy

Britain, France and Germany finally woke up and smelled the cappucino. Iran is angling to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel, but blowing off negotiated promises allowing United Nations inspectors to ensure it's used for commercial power, not nuclear weapons. All this at the same time a new fundamentalist Iranian president says Israel should be wiped from the map of the world, and the Holocaust never happened. Let's face it: Iran is the central hub in the axis of evil. But that realization alone doesn't yield an effective U.S. energy policy. More on Iran from The Boston Globe (free reg. req.):

The government in Tehran insisted that its nuclear program is intended only to develop fuel for a power plant and that it has the right to do so under international law. Enriched uranium, however, can also be used to make nuclear weapons. In recent years, Iran raised suspicions after inspectors discovered that it had kept parts of its enrichment program secret. As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran is allowed to conduct nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes, but must declare its activities and allow inspections.

Yesterday, European diplomats said the failure of negotiations were a blow to Europe's three largest powers, who have long hoped that economic incentives and the promise of better relations with the West would persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program. Calling for referral to the (U.N.) Security Council was, in essence, an adoption of a hard-line approach long favored by the United States. Two years ago, US officials initially withheld support from the EU negotiations with Iran because Washington was skeptical that Tehran would ever agree to give up its sensitive nuclear programs. But when Rice became secretary of state, she backed the effort, arguing that if the talks failed, the Europeans would then support the US call for harsher action, as now appears to be happening.

Not that much of anything will come from the U.N. here, but that's the next step in a long dance. This Christian Science Monitor editorial points out that while Iran's current belligerence on inspections stems in large part from abundant oil revenues, the mullahs nonetheless have worries that may provide an opening for compromise. Yes, I suppose the glass is one-quarter full.

This NYT editorial outlines the current Iranian threat quite well, then naively collapses into the "we must jabber more" mode, with no mention of other strategies. Blogger Gina Cobb says, "Iran: There's No Sense Talking It To Death." Victor Davis Hanson gives a trenchant analysis on the whole kerfuffle, contemplating a U.S. air strike on Iran, and concluding we need "an energy policy that collapses the global oil price."

Well, yeah. And that would seem to involve developing some viable alternatives to oil, wouldn't it? Renewable fuels will help; so will an increase in networked collaboration - isn't the phrase "telecommuting" so 1993? OK....let's see, what else? Oh, yeah! More natural gas, "clean coal," and, ah, nuclear power, especially in oil-importing countries.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2006

Performance Art And Hair Washing At Ohio University

It's dirty work, but somebody's got to do it.

Performance Art Watchdog is back on the case. From the Ohio University Post::

Two girls washing each other's hair, and a man dressed in a skirt with his face painted white are not the types of things most people would imagine in an art exhibit. However, these are just some...elements in the genre of performance art.

Photographer and performance artist Jeffery Byrd said he defines performance art as "symbolic actions."...Byrd, a professor of photography at the University of Northern Iowa, visited Ohio University for the opening of the exhibit "Smoke and Mirrors: Photography and Performance" at Seigfred Hall Tuesday.

Byrd gave a lecture about the transformation in his work from photography to performance art. Growing up in blue-collar Alabama, he said he never saw a true painting until college at the University of Florida....He said he believes the body is a big mechanism, which is present in both his photography and performance art. It is all about the body and its specifics, and everyone can relate to it because everyone has a body, he said.

....During a live performance at the "Smoke and Mirrors: Photography and Performance" exhibit, Anni Holm and Nyok Mei Wong, performance artists from Chicago, washed each other's hair. Polaroid pictures were taken of the performance and hung on a wall with the watering cans and ponchos used in the piece as the exhibit. Holm and Wong, originally from Denmark and Malaysia, respectively, collaborate on many performance art pieces. The two were chosen for Byrd's piece after submitting samples of their work, including a piece about washing someone else's hair, Wong said.

Wong, a "devoted" performance artist, said performance art can't really be described because it has to be put into art history context and be recognized as something that won't last forever. "It is like executing a task," she said. However, Wong and Holm both value the audience interaction of performance art as a sort of "thrill," Wong said.

I must say that I too would be thrilled if a bunch of people would interact with me as I washed someone else's hair in an art gallery.

Imagine the level to which such interactions might rise were I doing something truly salient.

Like ol' Jeff Byrd here.

Twirling around under dim lights like a miked ballerina to demonstrate "the metaphorical potential of the human body."

This is from another performance art piece (not part of the current OU show).

It's called "Melanoma Aria." And damn straight: that performance is metaphorical, Jeff.

Gotta be hard to be a performance artist from the University of Northern Iowa, if you ask me. How to establish a reputation? Guess you just gotta try ever so much harder.

Maybe do a video sculpture for the good people of Buffalo, about nipple-hair plucking, or something.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

Impaler For Minnesota Guv

"Makes Kinky Friedman look like a mainstream candidate," sez my friend Michael Brandon McClellan in an e-mail tipping me to a guy called the Impaler, who's running for Governor of Minnesota. Sure enough.

Take a gander at Jonathon (The Impaler) Sharkey, who will launch his gubernatorial campaign in Princeton, Minn., on Friday the 13th as a "satanic dark priest" and the leader of the "Vampyres, Witches and Pagans Party." Since there's nothing but a $300 filing fee to stop anyone from running for statewide office, campaigns in Minnesota typically attract colorful and eccentric characters looking for attention.

And of course, former Gov. Jesse Ventura broke the mold and got elected. But Minnesota may never have seen a more outside-the-box politician than the Impaler, also a former pro wrestler. For starters, he describes himself as a "sanguinary vampyre ... just like you see in the movies and TV, I sink my fangs into the neck of my donor (at this time in my life, it is my wife, Julie), and drink their blood," he said in an e-mail.

...Sharkey's religious convictions also might be described as well removed from the middle of the road. Call it compassionate Satanism. "On a whole, those who worship Lucifer are no more evil than those who worship other gods," he says on his website. Although he calls the "Christian God the Father" his "mortal enemy," Sharkey said he has nothing against Jesus Christ or his followers. But he thinks God the Father was a poor parent for allowing his son to be crucified. Sharkey, 41, is receiving veterans' disability benefits because of a severe injury in the Army in 1982.

He's actually got a decent Web site, and his platform is a fairly cohesive stew of simmered populist cheap meat. His political resume is all over the map, literally. He was a New Jersey Republican, a Reform party member, and tried to seek elected office in Indiana and Florida, before heading north to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Sharkey promises that nothing, not even winning this contest, will stop him from running for President in '08. That's a relief, even if - as the preceeding link indicates - he's a delusional paranoiac. What really stands out, though, is his brand-dynamic "impale the criminals and terrorists" plank.

As The Impaler campaigns around the good state of Minnesota, I'd suggest different colored capes (black-only is just too downbeat) coordinated with the issuance of matching, alternately-hued position papers. Now, Jonathon, you get some of my trademark, high-priced communications consulting for free; because it's your lucky day. The Ventua experience is still fresh in the minds of Minnesotans; he campaigned as an admittedly colorful outsider with a civic streak, but once elected, turned out to be a total flake with anger management problems. You should get out in front of similar doubts bound to hinder your campaign's success, by playing up your collaborative, team-building side. Choosing the right meds would be a good start.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:26 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2006

Blair Wants Smackdown For Anti-Social Behavior

Scotland and especially England remain in the throes of systemic social dysfunction. Anti-social behavior rules: boozed-up street youths known as neds and yobs - plus public housing families from hell - continue to render life unbearable for neighbors and fellow townsfolk. The daily news is full of one horrid incident after another; rooted in violence, disrespect and often, drunkenness.

How bad is it? Just a few tiny snapshots.

Vile young gits are running amok in Scotland - the Daily Mirror has more on the "Scourge Of The Apprentice Neds."

Then there's the mother of five, also a grandma aged 70, in Telford, Shropshire, left bloody with a broken nose from bricks flung through her window by local yobs; it was the fourth such incident involving hurled bricks at their home, according to her husband.

Even worse is this bunch of tossers, an "ASBO hell family" which resided in council flats on - yes, really - Leadenflower Place - in Crieff, Perthshire.

A family were yesterday booted out of their home under anti-social behaviour laws. Bridget and Robert Marr, along with their son Michael, were escorted from their house by police and council officials. Neighbours complained that the house was used as an all-hours drinking den...The Marrs have been banned from their council house in Crieff, Perthshire, for a minimum of six weeks, to give neighbours a break. Bridget, 55, and Michael were already subject to anti-social behaviour orders, which did little to curb their behaviour. And police had responded to 29 separate complaints about behaviour at the Marrs' home in the past three months. Locals complained that the house in Leadenflower Place was an all-hours drinking den. Bridget played dance music, including a remix of Britney Spears hit Toxic, at top volume through the night.

Neighbours who complained about the noise and swearing were threatened with violence, and visitors to the flat were seen urinating in the common close. The Marrs' disabled neighbour Alan Sinclair,40, said:"They called me a crippled b****** and things like that when I complained. "A bit of quiet will be bliss." Another neighbour, Colin Galbraith, claimed that Michael Marr threatened him with violence if he complained to the authorities. Marr allegedly told him: "I will slit your throat. I'm warning you, fat man, don't go near the council." The Marrs were taken away in a council minibus. Arrangements have been made to temporarily rehouse them in a council home on Perth's Muirton estate, where they used to live.

First off, the excrescent Britney muzaque promulgator deserves about five years in shackles. As for merely sending these miscreants to another public housing venue? Oh, lucky former neighbors! Expel these vermin from public housing altogether! For starters. Anything less merely enables their "F*** All" sense of government-enabled entitlement.

I'm pissing a blue streak because community viability cuts to the core, whether the concern is bad neighbors, overt crime, harrassment, or trashed streets. Don't ever short-sell the resonance of such issues - as many U.S. mayors, city councils and police chiefs have learned.

With public concerns over rampant yobbery reaching fever pitch, Labour Party standard-bearer and Prime Minister Tony Blair has come out swinging - if late - proposing a comprehensive new "respect action plan," including eviction powers for "council flat" or public housing families deemed repeat offenders of ASBOs or anti-social behavior orders. The Guardian has more, on what Britain's would-be Rudy G. wants:

The key measures of the...cross-departmental effort...include:

consulting on a new power to evict persistent troublemakers from their homes for three months;

more parenting courses, with more agencies able to impose parenting orders on those parents who refuse to take up help when their children are "out of control;"

a "national parenting academy," to train social workers, clinical psychologists, community safety officers and youth justice workers about advising parents, plus more parenting orders;

possible nighttime curfews and new, fixed penalty notices rising from £80 to £100, injunctions against antisocial behaviour, and more unpaid community service orders;

communities are to be given powers to grill the police on their battle with yobs and demand tougher action where they think they have failed.

They must hold "face the people" sessions and respond to a "community call to action" within a set deadline;

more money for youth clubs and sports centres, as announced in last year's pre-budget report;

....Mr Blair, launching the scheme with a symbolic removal of some graffiti, said he wanted a "radical new approach to restore the liberty of the law-abiding citizen. My view is very clear - their freedom to be safe from fear comes first." Saying Britain was fighting 21st century crime with 19th century methods, the PM added: "Traditional thinking will have to be overthrown if we are to get to grips with practical reality."

A bit statist, Yes. But law-breaking actions require consequences. Tony-O's moving in the right direction here. Let's hope the bureaucracy, the public and Parliament lend their enthusiastic support, and add some steroids to the mix.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:10 AM | Comments (1)

January 10, 2006

Rosenblog Opinion Review, Vol. 9

Bob Gallagher, Albuquerque Tribune: "Mine The Lands."

Bernadine Healy. M.D., U.S. News & World Report: "Too Slow For Cancer."

Cathy Young, International Herald Tribune: "There Are Also Battered Men."

Karin Klein, Hartford Courant: "Parents, Wake Up! Your Kid Is Annoying."

Manchester Union Leader, editorial: "Confederacy Of Dunces - American Literacy Slides."

San Jose Mercury News, editorial: "Stand Firm On High School Exit Exams."

Thomas Sowell, Townhall.com: "Curing Poverty, Or Using Poverty?"

Robert Seltzer, San Antonio Express News: "(Kinky) Friedman A Serious Politician? Why Not?"

Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker: "Abramoffed."

Stephen F. Hayes, Weekly Standard: "Saddam's Terror Training Camps."

Bill Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Hitchens: Fight Them Everywhere."

Paul Gray, Melbourne Herald Sun: "Making Sense Of Doomsday."

Denver Post, editorial: "Unite Against Darfur Genocide."

Zvi Bar'el, Daily Star (Lebanon): "There Is Arab Public Opinion, Just Ask The Dictators."


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Arcata City Council Calls For Bush Impeachment - Again

When we last checked in, the city council of Fruitbatvale - er, Arcata - California, had been holding a public hearing on whether to deport a statue of fearsome imperialist William McKinley. More recently, the council - which last year passed a resolution against the Iraq War, and also mulled a measure offering refuge for U.S. military refuseniks and deserters, has again approved an advisory measure calling for the impeachment of President Bush. More from the San Francisco Chronicle.

The resolution lists allegedly impeachable offenses, such as misleading the American people and Congress into waging war in Iraq, failing to respond adequately to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, torturing human beings in violation of the Geneva Convention and ordering the secret surveillance of American citizens. All elected officials are sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, said Councilman Dave Meserve, co-sponsor of the resolution. "This obligates us to act when the president violates the Constitution," he said.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Bush understands that there are people who oppose his policies, but "recognizes he has a responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country and that's what he will continue to do." Arcata's leaders passed a similar resolution in 2004. The year before that, the council stopped short of calling for Bush's ouster, instead voting to ask for an investigation of the president.

The Green Party of California got so excited about the Arcata resolution, they issued a press release about it, and included the full text. But Arcata Mayor Michael Machi, on the short side of the 3-2 council vote to pass the advisory measure, told the Eureka Reporter:

"I’m hoping not to give it too much credibility or play because I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the City Council to call for the impeachment of the president.”

The paper reported:

The City Council’s resolution requests that U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa), with help from other representatives of Congress, introduce articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney, according to a press release sent out on Thursday by Meserve. “The Constitution states it’s solely in the hands of the House of Representatives,” Machi said. “I believe that Mike Thompson is perfectly capable of doing his job with regard to any concerns of impeachment.” According to Thompson’s press secretary Matt Gerien, Thompson had seen Arcata’s resolution and has no intention of introducing articles of impeachment at this time.

More from Machi:

“It hurts the city of Arcata by ruining our credibility. Nobody will want to come to shop here because crazies are in charge.”

You could say that. Meanwhile, Arcata's festering homeless population of Trustafarian vagrants remains a sore point.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 04:15 PM | Comments (5)

Transit Worker On Paid Disability In Long Distance Runs?

Labor unions are always big on workmen's compensation programs, and at its root, the concept is fair enough. You get injured on the job, you're entitled not only to special medical care for the injury, but also to keep earning wages - or some portion - while recuperating. But the bargain is that you really have to be injured while getting paid not to work. A Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District bus driver named Johnny Chavarria has been charged with fraud and grand theft, following the revelation - yesterday in the Santa Cruz Sentinel - that he reportedly ran in the Big Sur Marathon - and other races - while on "temporary total disabled" status with pay after a back injury.

Chavarria of Salinas injured his back while driving a bus for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, the District Attorney's Office said. He was arrested Friday and is charged with fraud and grand theft following an investigation into the injury claim he filed in June 2003. "You can't run marathons if you are not well enough to drive a Metro bus," said District Attorney Bob Lee. "It's not just wrong; it's criminal." Chavarria began receiving payments from the fund after being rated at "temporary total disabled," and he continued receiving payments until he returned to work in July 2004, according to the District Attorney's Office. Investigators are still trying to determine how much money he obtained. Chavarria could not be reached for comment.

Investigators working for the insurance company that paid Chavarria's claim said the bus driver ran at least one other marathon as well as several 10K running races while off work. Those activities were not recommended by the driver's physicians, according to the District Attorney's Office.

"We talked to a couple of his doctors, and they don't think running 10Ks or marathons is good" for rehabilitating his injury, Lee said. Chavarria was released Friday from Santa Cruz County Jail after posting $25,000 bail. He is due in court later this month. Lee said his office is investigating several other cases of workers' compensation fraud. "The workers' compensation fund is there for a reason: to help make sure people can support themselves and their families while they're rehabilitating from an injury," Lee said. "We're working to protect it."

Meanwhile, a former California Highway Patrol officer has been convicted for workman's comp fraud; he took place in a terrorism training drill while on disability leave.

A Boston-area bus driver has been indicted on one count of workers comp fraud and one of larcency, for an alleged disability scam pulled several years earlier when he was working as a mover. Just the sort you want on a public payroll now.

A West Virginia school bus driver has been convicted on two felony counts related to a false workman's comp claim; he claimed injury exiting a school bus, but prosecutors say it happened when he jumped off a bulldozer used in a private contracting job.

A truck operator for the Glendale, California Department of Water and Power was convicted on two felony counts of workman's comp fraud. After going on disability from a reported ankle sprain, and claiming he needed crutches to move around, he was seen walking normally, doing yard work, and stomping his feet.

As we see, public employees are at the center of many of the recent workers compensation fraud cases in the news. Hmmm.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:53 AM | Comments (1)

Never Try To Catch A Falling Knife, And Other Wacky Warning Labels

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (MLAW) has announced its ninth annual "Wacky Warning Labels" contest winners. Last year, manufacturers felt compelled to warn the public that:

a 1,000-degree heat gun and paint remover shouldn't be used on your wet hair;

a cocktail napkin showing offshore channels in South Carolina shouldn't be used for navigation;

falling knives are not to be caught;

an outdoor pest attractant including bobcat urine was not for human consumption;

and....ovenware gets hot when used in an oven.

But with college grads' literacy skills weak, I think words aren't enough. Picture-warning disclaimers may be required, too.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:22 AM | Comments (2)

January 08, 2006

They Ain't Makin' Candidates Like Kinky Friedman Any More

The question quickly arises: for its own spiritual nourishment and comedic relief, can Texas afford NOT to elect as its next governor, the one and only Kinky Friedman? The declared candidate is an ex-Peace Corps worker, country music troubador and fiction writer.

The famed Kinkster's personality is fairly mammoth, and a buzzard shorely wouldn't sneeze at his intellect. Kinky's command of the issues, as we'll see below, is, well, one-of-a-kind. I can say this: What a personna, and what friends he has! Is that not one-third the essence of electoral politics right there? The famed leader of Kinky Friedman and Texas Jewboys, singer of "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Any More," and noted mystery novelist is runnin' hard. Here's the steer-poop.

Friedman is out campaigning, spreading his vision to supporters in San Antonio, Fort Worth, the Rio Grande Valley. He appealed for funds at the Willie Nelson picnic in October, raising about $150,000. Friedman said Bob Dylan told him he wanted to help out. "They were in Dylan's bus, Willie and Dylan, on tour in Fort Worth, before the picnic," Friedman recalled. "And Dylan calls me up, and he says he wants some Kinky campaign posters, one for the bus, one for his boxing gym and one for his office." Then Nelson, apparently thinking Friedman was more adept with words than numbers, got back on the line after Dylan was through. "That's three posters, Kinky," Nelson told the candidate. "Three."

As he maneuvers his way through the campaign, Friedman recalls some valuable advice that former President Bill Clinton gave him when the two met in Austin recently. "He told me, 'Pick two issues that are close to your heart and hammer them home,'" Friedman said. So he has picked education and immigration. The state government, he said, has botched both issues. So he supports pay raises for teachers, and he has outlined a bizarre plan to protect the border. "You take five Mexican generals and give them a bank account of $1 million each," he said. "Then every time a Mexican national gets caught crossing illegally, you withdraw $5,000 from the general responsible for that sector." Could the plan generate the same kind of controversy that the Minutemen, which some officials view as vigilante groups, have generated on this side of the border? "Look," he said, "I'm just opening this up for discussion. You don't get anywhere unless you talk about it first. No one is talking in Texas. They're afraid to."

Clinton gave Friedman another piece of advice. "It's funny," Friedman said. "He told me, 'Kinky, what connects you to the people is humor. Don't ever lose it.'" As an independent, he will try to maintain his humor while pursuing a serious task, getting 45,539 voters to sign a petition. If he does, his name will be on the November ballot. But there is a rub: Only those who do not vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries can sign the petition, and he has only two months in which to get all the signatures — one month if the primary races force runoffs. "I'll be busy," he said, "but I hope to have my talking action figure do a lot of the work for me."

Cute Kinky, but c'mon. Pay raises for teachers? That's SO not enough, actually. Wrong direction, even. Do you support expanded school choice or not? What about high-bar curricula, state-wide? How to goose increased parental involvment in low-income districts? G'wan, tell it, cowpoke! Where are the Kinkster White Papers? Yer campaign Web site looks OK, but it's more tofutti than prime beef. E-mail me if you need a hand, Kinky. I'll give ya' my non-non-profit rate. Promise.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

A Pissoir By Any Other Name

A urinal rechristened by late Dada practioner Marcel Duchamp as "Fountain," and currently on display in Paris, has been attacked with a hammer by an old nemisis named Pierre Pinoncelli, who previously employed it for its best and highest use. Turns out (see below) this isn't the only piece of conceptual art to invite problematic participation. You could say that Duchamp was merely re-packaging original content, like bloggers do these days. Perhaps the tangible, physical responses to a provocative "work" of art should be seen as similar to passionate comments appended to a particular post on a blog. More from the New York Times:

Mr. Pinoncelli's attack also refocuses attention on the perennial question of what defines art. The question, playfully yet provocatively raised by the Dada movement nearly a century ago, has been refreshed since the 1980's by succeeding waves of Conceptual, installation and performance art. Like this week's case, such protests are often waged by artists themselves. In 1999, for example, two Chinese artists, Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi Ianjun, jumped on "My Bed," a work by the British artist Tracey Emin comprising an unmade bed accompanied by empty bottles, dirty underwear and used condoms, that was on view at Tate Britain. The following year, the same two artists urinated on the Tate Modern's version of "Fountain," noting that Duchamp himself said artists defined art.

...Among numerous other protests, blue dye was sprayed over Carl Andre's display of bricks at the Tate Gallery in London in 1976, and black ink was squirted into a transparent container displaying Damien Hirst's dead sheep preserved in formaldehyde at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Still, not all vandalism is intended: another work by Mr. Hirst on display in a Mayfair gallery in 2001 - half-full coffee cups, dirty ashtrays, beer bottles and the like - was thrown away by cleaners who mistook it for refuse. The same thing happened at Tate Britain in 2004 to a work by Gustav Metzger, a bag of trash titled "Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art."

I hope someone gave those cleaners a bonus.

The urinal vandal-artiste Pinoncelli, by the way, previously gained notoriety for cutting off one of his fingers in a political protest. Here's his official Web site. (Viewed in my browser it had a very annoying pop-up ad up top that wasn't easy to click off, maybe you'll have better luck. It appears commerce is not beneath him, at least).

All told, however, conceptual and performance art both are inherently fatuous, reinforcing my appreciation for the timeless works - actual paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, carvings, photos, and theatre that evince actual, um, talent - rather than a snootful of brandy, a desire to transgress, and a press agent. Is it not time for a retrospective somewhere on Paulo Ucello (just above, right)?

Everything you'll want to know about performance art is in this Rosenblog post, titled, "A
Dead Hare, Crotchless Pants, And Shamanistic Transgression"
. Note the links at the end.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 06:25 PM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2006

God, Family, Medicine and Sweet & Sour Tofu Do Not A Full Life Make

The L.A. Times today has a fascinating, in-depth piece on the Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California. Interesting bunch. Conservative vegetarians way into health and cutting-edge medicine. Not your average bible-thumpers. Eschewing meat and alcohol, the men live 7.3 years longer, and the women 4.4 years longer than other Californians, on average. But is it worth it?

The Loma Linda Market seems like a perfectly ordinary grocery store, until you search for the meat aisle. Cases of Morningstar Farms' $2.69-a-can Tuno meat substitute are piled next to Worthington's vegetarian Turkee slices. Organic shampoos share floor space with bulk barrels of spices and whole grains. The five-member City Council has historically enforced strict zoning laws against alcohol sales, reflecting the church's teetotaling ways. (Beer and wine are sold only at supermarkets and a few restaurants.)

Vegetarian turkey and no Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving is hard enough. But here's where some of them really lose me:

...the most traditional church members shun fiction, movies and dancing.

'Scuse me, please: a James Brown CD and a really disturbing, lurid Joyce Carol Oates novel await. Gotta go!

But, first, there's another problem, with so many local institutions being church affiliated, including the university and medical center:

......40% of the property in town is tax-exempt, according to City Manager Dennis Halloway. "We need more business," said Mayor (Floyd) Petersen of the town, which lacks the major retailers that are found just over the city line in Redlands and Colton.

Well: anyone selling meat, booze, or videos is going to bypass Loma Linda - restaurants, multiplexes, Blockbuster, Wal-Mart, e-commerce distributors of fiction, dance music CDs and vacu-sealed meat products.....forget it. So that leaves.....let's see, what? Car dealers and Home Depot and yarn shops.........?

Radical asceticism is slippery slope.

Do Adventists eat dessert? Just curious.

How about a Ben and Jerry's in Loma Linda?


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson Again: Oy Vey!

Pat Pat Pat: enough already, for Jahweh's sake, with this Wrath Of God shtick! It's sooooooo played, dude! Anytime something happens that you think gives you the slighest opening to score some points for your ultra-right agenda, you drag God into it: He Planned This to prove I was right, yet again. Or: He Will Punish You, because this is wrong.

Talk about giving religion a bad name. You're no instrument of God. You're just a self-righteous tool of your own fevered imagination.

Translation: Pat Robertson says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke is punishment from God for "dividing the Holy Land," by pulling Israeli settlers out of Gaza.

But there's got to be some give in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Gaza pull-out - opposed by some Israeli hardliners, and apparently Pat Robertson - while understandably controversial, was nonetheless utterly necessary to move the ball forward in the overtime grudge match that must end.

I'm sure I could find some scripture about give and take and meeting of the minds, but scripture quoters have no place in politics or policy. This is part of what makes the Islamo-fascists so repugnant, isn't it? Yes, they're actually killing innocents and trying to destroy Western civilization, as opposed to merely mouthing off like Rev. Pat. But beware the pronouncer of political views and positions - ANY views and positions at all - who says he's got a pipeline to the Big Guy. Or that his Holy Book told him what's the right public policy. Have your religious beliefs. Fine. But make your political and policy arguments without them. Not so hard, really, and you'll reach more people.

True, the "anti-Zionist" hatemongers such as Iran's new president and the Palestinian terrorists of Hamas, who want to see Israel expunged from the map, are admittedly even more vile than Robertson. But friends like him, neither the U.S. nor Israel needs.

As this WaPo article on Robertson's latest blunder notes, he's been on a roll lately.

Pat Robertson, an avowed Republican, is a pox on the Republican Party. In hell, where he's surely headed, I hope he's right next to Michael Moore. They deserve each other.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 07:50 PM | Comments (2)

January 05, 2006

Olesker Saga No Cause For Celebration

Another mainstream journalist has been caught up in a plagiarism scandal, and has resigned. You only get one actual example in this AP story of the over-the-top, unattributed cribbing from other sources that drove veteran Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker's departure from the paper Tuesday. The real meat is in this Baltimore City Paper piece. Read the examples and decide. My verdict: too close for comfort, a few too many times.

Detroit Free-Press star columnist and "Tuesdays With Morrie" author Mitch Albom faced similar charges last year, but his editors declined to let him go. Here in Seattle-Tacoma, long-time Seattle Times business columnist Stephen Dunphy was forced out after an internal investigation revealed repeated instances of plagiarism. Tacoma New Tribune restaurant reviewer Bart Ripp left the paper after it was revealed he'd fabricated material, and tried to shake restaurateurs down for free meals in return for favorable reviews. This earlier Rosenblog post covers those debacles and few others, including that of the NYT's Rick Bragg.

Here, I wrote in detail about the fabulism and bias involved in Boston Globe correspondent Barbara Stewart's coverage of a controversial Canadian seal hunt. I also blogged the 2004 departure of USA Today's Jack Kelley for serial plagiarism and fabrication.

I take no particular joy in these sorts of ethical tumbles among mainstream journalists. I suppose it's convenient to be able to remind the few remaining, viscerally anti-blog denizens of the Fourth Estate that their own ranks are polluted. But the blogosphere depends on quality journalism as its raw material. Even as bloggers decry the very real failings of mainstream media, they're searching for online stories and columns they can supportively cite, to make their case on one or another of their own soapbox issues. More often than plagiarism or outright errors, the issue is questionable conclusions, omissions or bias. The best approach is tough love, and a little bit of humor doesn't hurt (see here, and here).

As a professional writer, here are my rules for paraphrasing other written material: Either directly attribute, or take several deep breaths, go tabula rasa, and re-phrase in your own words. The latter works better if you're drawing from several sources, not just one. In news and feature reporting, try to get your material from primary sources such as people, documents and direct observation. In commentary writing and blogging, the trick is clear attribution (links help reinforce this); and putting your own twist on what's already out there.

Language is like paint. Create your own picture.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:27 PM | Comments (2)

Seattle Is Bread City

The putdown "white bread" is applied aptly to many things besides bread itself. It's not so much about whiteness, as indistinctness, blandness.

You want crusty, tangy, flavorful bread; likewise with other things: people, music, buildings, cities.

My home, Seattle, is the place for amazing bread.

Now, I love the ethnic restaurants and markets of the little town from which I hail, Chicago.

One day, when the stars and my schedule are properly aligned, you're gonna get a whole lotta travel blogging from this here Chicago boy's old hometown.

I can tell you right now, if you want some great Afghan bread - not to mention scrumptious take-out spreads and appetizers and olives and salads and desserts - you want to go to the Middle Eastern deli on Foster Ave. (5200 N.) right smack between Clark St. and Ashland Ave. (1600 W.) in the Andersonville (Swedish) neighborhood. (Funny how that works, huh?)

Polish bakeries on the Northwest and Southwest sides of Chicago also have fine breads, especially sour ryes, and probably there are some excellent artisinal bakeries in neighborhoods such as Wicker Park; where effete, pierced, now-30- and 40-somethings walk their designer dogs, planning what poetry slams and tapas haunts to frequent that night.

Finally, the bagels at New York Bagels and Bialys, in the close-by Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood, are seriously to get-stuck-in-traffic for.

But the real baked-dough test is the large neighborhood grocery store. Does it, as a matter of course, have serious, fresh-daily, locally-made artisinal breads, or not? The term "artisinal" gets tossed around loosely now with respect to bread, but your teeth and tongue can tell.

Fact is, I couldn't score a decent loaf of bread in the main supermarket of my Chicago neighborhood of origin, Hyde Park, on my last visit. A real quality-of-life comedown, it was.

And flyover country is one vast bread wastland, face it. Yeah, biscuits and gravy are groovy, cornbread too. But a sesame and poppy seed-studded, chewy fresh baguette can't be beaten.

In contrast, my large neighborhood grocery in Seattle - which bewilderingly proffers gummy Butoni product in the cooler rather than the great local artisinal pasta, and which has the unmitigated gall to offer green peppers on "special" 2 for 3$ - nonetheless does have a great selection of local breads, reasonably priced to boot.

This Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 2000 has more on some of the great local bakeries, including Tall Grass, in Seattle's Ballard district. This Seattle Weekly piece from 2005 has more still on Seattle's bread culture.

Really good bread is a part of daily life that matters, if you're trying to live right. Of course, that pre-supposes dinner at home is a priority. Perhaps we're throwbacks in that respect.

Along with Tall Grass and Essential Bakeries, Macrina is one of my favorite local providers.

They have a wide range of fresh-baked, toothsome and crusty offerings. And their salted rosemary cracker bread is timeless. I tend to buy them out of it, when I'm in their Western Ave. bakery/cafe. If someone else already hasn't. But what ends up on the table most often, here at Chez Rosenblog, is their Rustic Potato Bread (pictured above left, along with a few bread lovers I know).

That requires not even butter. But dip your baguette or olive bread, or rosemary-garlic bread slices in a traditional Italian bread dip, or gremolata, made from: olive oil, fresh chopped garlic and parsely, fine-grated lemon rind, sea salt and red pepper flakes. Mmm hmmm!

Buon Appetito!


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2006

Marion Barry: I Was Robbed By Guns, And Society

Former four-term Washington D.C. Mayor and current city council member Marion Barry has compassion aplenty for the youths who robbed him at gunpoint after helping him up to his apartment with his groceries. He wants them to come forward to....share their troubled backgrounds with us all, and then skate free. Astoundingly, and to the obvious displeasure of police and prosecutors, Barry explicitly says his muggers should not be charged. Guns and social conditions are to blame, but not the perps, says Barry. The Washington Post has more.

...Barry yesterday urged two young men who robbed him at gunpoint Monday night to turn themselves in to police, promising that he would urge authorities not to prosecute them. "I have no animosities," Barry declared. "I don't even want you prosecuted, really. I love you. Give yourself up. Call the police. . . . I will do all I can to advocate non-prosecution."

Barry, 69, was held up in his kitchen about 9:30 p.m. Monday by two assailants who minutes earlier had helped him carry groceries from his car to his third-floor apartment in Southeast Washington. They pointed a gun at Barry's face and stole his wallet, which contained more than $200, his driver's license and two credit cards, police said....."There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend," Barry said at an afternoon news conference in which he described the robbery in detail. "I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do. I was a little hurt that this betrayal did happen."

...Yesterday, Barry called for a summit among the city's leaders to address gun violence. And he said he will prod the council to pass a bill he introduced to stiffen penalties for carrying a gun in the District. The proposed legislation would also prohibit judges in most cases from granting pretrial release to defendants facing gun charges. "Violence is everywhere," Barry said. "Guns are everywhere. This ought to be the number one priority in our city -- saving lives, getting guns off the street and rehabilitating young people."

Actually, uh, didn't D.C. "ban" handguns in 1976? We see how well that works. Barry's mugging signals it's time to reverse the D.C. ban.

City-by city handgun bans are destined to be ineffective. Can't enforce it. People who want guns will always be able to get them. And some law-abiding folk say, 'thank goodness'. Local gun bans also can't be taken very seriously by criminals if proponents can't manage to follow other laws. As the Washington Post story (first link) notes, Barry:

...was in his third term when the FBI videotaped him smoking crack; he was convicted of one count of misdemeanor drug possession. He settled in Ward 8 after completing a six-month prison sentence and won the council seat there in 1992, launching a comeback that eventually led to a fourth term as mayor. He recently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges because he did not pay most of his income taxes after leaving the mayor's office in 1999. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 18.

So here's a thrice-nailed criminal asking other criminals to obey a law that can't be enforced, anyway. The road to hell is paved with bad intentions.

Even Wisconsin has been starting to see the light on allowing concealed weapons. I'd say living in D.C. - especially the gritty southeast quadrant of town where Barry resides - is just a bit more challenging, public safety-wise, than in America's Dairyland.

Marion, there's a reason that, as you say, the underworld hustlers of D.C. see you as a friend. Your talk of changing "conditions" to "change what they do" is the moral equivalent of a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. The condition of being a gun-toting mugger starts with the choice to be a gun-toting mugger. You're their enabler. And now their victim, as well.

Hat tip: reader David Jackson.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:42 PM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2006

When Self-Help Hurts

The key part of of self-help is "self." I've always screwed up my brow at the huge self-help sections in bookstores. The books forever end up in Goodwill, next to old Mantovani LPs. You want to lose weight, improve a relationship, get more education, advance at work? GO AHEAD, THEN. It's all based on common sense. Execution is the hard part.

One especially insidious thing about the burgeoning American self-help industry is its co-dependent relationship with Clientized Consumerism. Whether you've got a problem with your career, marriage, dog's behavior, weight, self-esteem, or minority identity - there's either a moping "support group" to help you feel better about yourself (the low budget option), or (for the well-heeled mark) a trained professional to coach you through it. Odds are the latter has plenty of reading material, tapes and maybe even "seminars" available, for an extra charge.

Author and critic Steve Salerno in this L.A. Times op-ed explores the often-delusional aspects of self-help.

...the pop-psychology menu increasingly has been flavored by an antithetical concept — empowerment — that can be summarized as: Believe it, achieve it....In U.S. schools, the crusade to imbue kids with that most slippery of notions — self-esteem — has been unambiguously disastrous (and has recently been disavowed by a number of its loudest early voices)....Over time, it became clear that what such policies promote is not academic greatness but a bizarre disconnect between perceived self-worth and provable skill. Over a 20-year span beginning in the early 1970s, the average SAT score fell by 35 points. But in that same period, the contingent of college-bound seniors who boasted an A or B average jumped from 28% to an astonishing 83%, as teachers felt increasing pressure to adopt more "supportive" grading policies.

...Still, the U.S. keeps dressing its young in their emperors' new egos, passing them on to the next set of empowering curricula. If you teach at the college level, as I do, at some point you will be confronted with a student seeking redress over the grade you gave him because "I'm pre-med!" Not until such students reach med school do they encounter truly inelastic standards: a comeuppance for them but a reprieve for those who otherwise might find ourselves anesthetized beneath their second-rate scalpel.

...one never really fails in this brave new (euphemistic) world. "There is no such thing as failure," posits a core maxim of neuro-linguistic programming, the regimen from which (motiivational guru Tony) Robbins drew much of his patter....As top management consultant Jay Kurtz argues: "The most dangerous person in corporate America is the highly enthusiastic incompetent. He's running faster in the wrong direction, doing horribly counterproductive things with winning enthusiasm."

Thanks to self-help, people who have made intractable choices are peer-counseled that everything is workable. Take the Gay Married Men's Association of Washington, D.C . (GAMMA). Please. It's for gay or bi-sexual men who are married or contemplating an intimate relationship with a woman. I've stated here before I have no axe to grind with gays and lesbians so long as: they're good citizens; don't overplay the victim card; and don't speciously equate opposition to same-sex marriage with "homophobia." Yet I do believe that a man who's married to a woman, or considering partnering with one - but has sex with other men or wants to.......well, he'd better choose one life or the other. GAMMA sees it differently:

Some members are in satisfying, conventional marriages, some in less happy ones. Some are separated or divorced, some have lovers....Some have had free and open discussions with their spouses and children. Others have never spoken to anyone about their feelings. All are welcome and should find among us others who share their experience. GAMMA has no official party line. It neither encourages nor discourages its members from relationships with their wives or other women. Rather, it seeks to assist each man to find his own best road to travel in life. Much of this is accomplished through open, candid, and sympathetic sharing of thoughts, experiences and feelings.

Of course, there's a GAMMA referral to a regional "Wives Group," too, via The Straight Spouse Network. And doubtless plenty of psychotherapists willing to take money to help codify such arrangements.

Psychotherapists, and marriage counselors. Feh. Don't EVEN get me started on them.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

The Angry Left Gears Up For '08

At the online emporium called Cafe Press, where anyone can peddle branded merchandise, an outfit called The Angry Left has set up shop. Lots of bumper stickers, because of course, that's how Angry Lefties tend to, ah, organize, and, uh, get out the vote. The slogans pretty well capture the wit and wisdom of Lefties who so impressively carried Democrats to victory in the '04 presidential and congressional elections.

Peruse the site's anti-Bush bumper sticker offerings. My favorites in that section are "Bush/Satan," and Bush/Cheney - Dirty Rotten Commies." Or view Angry Left's "F*** The System" bumper stickers. My favorite: "The Road To Hell is Paved With Republicans." There's another one I see around Seattle: "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican." Lenin had a saying: "pin the convict's badge" on the enemy. Applied here in Seattle and like climes, that means, make it so unpleasant for people to come out as conservatives or Republicans that they don't. As it happens, that whole paradigm - and what to do about it - is at the heart of SeattleWeekly.com's second most viewed story of 2005.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

Legal Rights Selectively Applied In China

China's ongoing experiment in institutional schizophrenia is at least better than the alternative; the bad old days. A Chinese court has decided to uphold Starbucks' copyrighted trademark. The ruling that could portend tougher outcomes for rampant video and music piracy in China, which has been a justifiable sore point with American entertainment comglomerates. One more sign that globalism and capitalist running dogs are on the loose: Wal-Mart expansion continues in China.

But cognitive dissonance lurks in the Chinese public sphere. If you're a Chinese citizen, just try getting a ruling - ANY ruling - from Chinese courts about whether your lawsuit against the government can proceed. Can you spell b-l-a-c-k h-o-l-e? And mind you there are a LOT of reasons to sue the government in China these days.

Moreover, unease is building in abroad and in China about continuing censorship there of the press and the Internet.

So, naturally, the clued-in central authorities have decided to beef up the staff of the Marxist-Leninist academy in Beijing.

As well, The Hall Of Supreme Harmony (below) - in Beijing's Forbidden City - is being rehabbed in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Real harmony will be harder to achieve, as tensions grow between the nation's economic liberalization and the yen of old-line communists for centralized authority and social engineering.

Here are a few things Beijing should do to make life easier for the lower-income rural and provincial citizens who bear the brunt of social inequities in China today: don't steal their land; don't have them beaten by hired thugs for protesting land seizures; and don't force the women to have abortions.

Um, for starters.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2006

Rosenblog Opinion Review, Vol. 8

Brian McCartan, Christian Science Monitor: "War And Disasters Aside, 2005 Brought World Progress."

Tammy Herbster, Tucson Citizen: "Soldier Proud To Serve, To Tell of Iraq, To Know Us."

Seattle Times, editorial: Saddam's Behavior: Put A Sock In It."

(South Bay/L.A.) Daily Breeze, editorial: "Annan's Tantrum A Sign Of U.N. Rot."

Neal Peirce, Seattle Times: "A Solution To Illegal Immigration."

Chicago Tribune, editorial: "Regaining Border Control."

Islands Business, Alexander Downer (Australian Minister of Foreign Affaris): "Why We Don't Want You In Australia: We're Not Attracted To Guest Worker Schemes."

Joshua Muldavin, International Herald Tribune: "In Rural China, A Time Bomb Is Ticking."

Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times: "Scotland, It's Over, But Keep The Accents."

David M. Kinchen, Huntington News Network: "Some European Tourists Really Are Stuck On Stupid."

Dave Kopel, Rocky Mountain News: "New Study Detects Media's Liberal Tilt."

Lansing State Journal, editorial: "Not 'Lewd:' Co-habitation Measure From 1838 Has No Relevance In These Times."

Chinook (WA) Observer, editorial: "Sobering Conclusion: We're Not Ready For Tsunami."

Medford (OR) Mail Tribune, editorial: "Lawmakers Could Have Jumped Aboard The Biodiesel Train, But Failed.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, editorial: "America's Report Card."

Deborah Mathis, BlackAmericaWeb.com: "Black Americans: Here's A List Of Communal Resolutions For The New Year."


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

South Koreans Learn To Laugh

But Unease Lingers, Stateside, Over Scary Clowns

First, those grim Germans. Now those nose-to-the-grindstone South Koreans. Learning to laugh, from actual laughing instructors. The New York Times has more.

The interest in laughing classes is partly a response to the economic slump, said Han Kwang Il, director of the Korea Laughter Center, who gives 15 lectures a week. "People want to blow away their economic gloom with gut-busting laughter," he said. "But they don't know how to laugh and where to laugh."

Park Dong Sun, director of a laughter therapy center, Hahaha Korea, said that smiling faces would go a long way toward making South Koreans more likable overseas. "To people who don't know our manners, South Koreans' rigid look could be taken as an insult," Mr. Park said. "The next big jump in our economic growth will come when our people start laughing more."

Sure, a pleasant demeanor - and humor - can facilitate smooth business relationships. But it verges on humorlessness to actually talk about laughter as a tool for economic growth. Turns out there's another problem with forced good times. Some people are uneasy around clowns, and their lives are changed forever as a result.

There's even a name for the condition: coulrophobia. The Detroit News reports:

Beth Wallace was stopped at a traffic light when a truck pulled up next to her. As she took a sip from her thermos of coffee, Wallace, 32, a San Francisco resident, glanced at the driver, who turned his head and returned the stare. It was then that she saw the ghostly white face and bulbous red nose: The driver was a clown. Wallace shrieked and scrambled to lock her car doors, barely noticing the hot coffee she spilled on herself.

.......The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is no laughing matter. Although there are no official statistics, some experts believe that as many as one in seven people suffer from some level of the phobia, symptoms of which can include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and overall feelings of dread. In October, a plan to erect dozens of clown statues in Sarasota, Fla., a fabled circus town, was almost scrapped after an outcry from coulrophobes and clown-haters. Coulrophobia is most commonly triggered by a traumatic experience in childhood, says Steven Luel, a psychologist in New York specializing in anxiety and phobias. Indeed, that was the case with Wallace. At the age of 6, she met her first clown at the circus, an encounter she still remembers clearly 25 years later. "A clown got right up in my face, and I could see his beard stubble under his makeup. He smelled bad, and his eyes were weird," she says. "I guess I never got over it."

Phew. Scary stuff. Verily Hitchcock-ian. Even newspaper columnists have been traumatized by clowns. I think the feds need to find some research grant money so experts can examine this more closely. My bet is that thanks to repressed memory syndrome, many are suffering from coulrophobia unawares. Moreover, I'm certain we're hearing only from white people about coulrophobia for a reason: Due to institutional racism, communities of color haven't been encouraged to explore their experiences with coulrophobia. It's quite likely coulrophobia among minorities is among the causes of racial disparities in education, income, incarceration and health.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006

What Ever Happened to Mungo Jerry?

So last night, as the New Year broke, our family found itself in a rare position. All together in front of the video screen watching actual TV, as opposed to a DVD. After the live fireworks from atop the Space Needle on a local channel - replete with some cool music from artists nominally connected with Seattle such as Jimi, and Ray Charles - and while surfing around a Discovery Channel tsunami documentary and the end of a great Allison Krause/Union Station concert on public TV - we stumbled across a scintillating 30-minute infomercial for a Time-Life 10 CD collection called "70s Music Explosion."

The air was thick with cheese, but Mom and Dad were singing along, and editorializing quite heavily on the tunes, hair, and clothes, to the great amusement of their progeny. I was able to briefly share my innermost feelings about Jim Croce, Don McLean, and especially Bread. (Anyone remember "Baby I'm A Want You?" No? OK, consider yourself blessed). Original grainy video - and some actual GOOD tunes added to the time-warp allure, as did, I suppose, the oleaginous presence of suave huckster Barry Williams, whom you may remember as Greg on The Brady Bunch.

A favorite clip of mine was the English band Mungo Jerry, singing "In The Summertime." Lyrics here, plus dynamic cellphone ringtone offer.

The song was a summer of '70 skiffle-inflected smash hit, which to date has sold a hefty 23 million copies, according to the Wikipedia link below. The band took their name from a T.S. Eliot poem titled, "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer."

Ray Dorset was the famed mutton-chopped frontman, and while the Time-Life collection has the song and group filed under "one-hit wonders," this extensive Wikipedia entry on Mungo Jerry gives the lie to that.

After "In The Summertime," a number of other Mungo Jerry hits ensued. Dorset has had a rich recording career; and Mungo Jerry is still live and kickin, with - in the fine tradition of rock-star idolatry - pseudo-comprehensible fan Web sites following along.

But ain't nothin' ever gonna top that tune, and Ray's long-gone mutton chops. Play that funky mujik, white boy.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)