Friday, February 23, 2007

One Percent

Are you ready to have your heart broken? If not then don’t read this post. But our nation needs to pay more attention to this, needs to weep.

I watched an episode of Criminal Minds the other night. It centered on an Army veteran who was changing a tire on the freeway when a building nearby was demolished and the explosion and ground shock sent him into reliving his traumatic experience as a soldier in Somalia. In the course of the episode his wife told police that since his return from that war he had been afraid of loud noises, had been unable to bear the smell of anything burning, like a barbecue or fall leaves, that he had been moody and distant. "Please help him," she pleaded, "I lost him fifteen years ago." At the end of the episode, in a tragic mistake, he was shot to death by law enforcement.

That was fiction, but there are too many of our veterans and their families in similar straights who are not fictional at all. Too many of our soldiers return from the battlefield needing help that they do not receive. Too many of our families need help while their soldiers are at war and do not receive it.

You may need a subscription to read the New York Times piece about the stress on families here.

"And unlike the Vietnam era, when the draft meant that many people were directly touched by the conflict, this period finds military families feeling a keen sense of isolation from the rest of society. Not many Americans have a direct connection to the war or the military. Only 1.4 million people, or less than 1 percent of the American population, serve in the active-duty military."

Less than one percent. And their families isolated.

A soldier's wife, crying in the shower every day so that her children will not know how lonely and afraid she is.

Children misbehaving in schools that do not understand the stress a child experiences with a parent at war because so few children in that school are in that terrible situation.

Parents, fearful for their children in harm’s way. Being strong for their grandchildren’s sake.

Reservists who signed up for a single one-year tour, having their second tour extended to sixteen months and facing the prospect of a third.

Soldiers who return from the battlefield missing limbs and who live in moldy, pest infested quarters for months while rehabilitating. "Standing quarters" at seven in the morning for no reason other than some non-combatant officer’s misbegotten sense of military discipline. Being tended by their family members because there is no staff on hand to do so.

Soldiers who have threatened suicide who are handed a weapon and returned to the battlefield, and who then carry out their threat and turn that weapon on themselves.

Others who go through life afraid of loud noises, moody and distant from those who love them, unable to ask for the help they need and never offered that help by those in authority who should care.

It is more than a national disgrace, it is a national crime, perpetrated by our leadership.

Weep, America, and then demand change.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Existential threat?

"No options are off the table. We cannot abide by a nuclear-armed Iran. It would be an existential threat to the United States."

George Bush? No. Bad grammar and all, it’s Hillary Clinton. It’s becoming more and more difficult to distinguish her from George W. Bush.

Iran cannot possibly, under any circumstances, become a threat to the existence of this country. If I thought she believed that I would simply feel sorry for someone of such limited intelligence, but for her suggest that Iran can be a threat of such a nature as to cause this country to no longer exist is empty rhetoric of the most politically cynical and self-serving sort.

With or without a nuclear weapon, Iran can disrupt the Middle East to the point that our access to that source of oil is cut off. That would be a severe blow to our economy and would cause hardship and dislocation, but we would survive it. I even suspect we would emerge from the situation a stronger nation economically, morally, and probably militarily.

Should Iran develop nuclear weapons, can they build a large number of them in any reasonable time frame? Can they develop a delivery system that can reach the United States with a nuclear warhead? To suggest that they can do either is sheer nonsense, and they would have to do both to be an “existential threat” to us.

The hundreds of nuclear-tipped ICBM’s that the Soviet Union possessed during the Cold War was an existential threat to the United States, but the idea that Iran could match that is simply laughable. Or it would be if the usage of the threat weren’t so sick. Usage of the threat for self-serving political purposes.

The threat of Iran reaching us with some sort of covert delivery of one nuclear weapon is, indeed, frightening. The idea of, as Cheney put it, “losing a city” is chilling, and having that happen would be a very serious blow. But to suggest that the country would not survive it is to seriously underestimate the character of this nation’s people.

Certainly it is desirable to prevent “a nuclear-armed Iran.” We should be using diplomatic means toward that end, as we have done successfully (finally, after threats did not work) with North Korea. Having a strong standing military as a backstop to diplomacy is a reasonable policy.

But to be tossing the “no options are off the table” threat, to be saying that we are willing to use our nuclear weapons to prevent others from obtaining similar arms, is simply unconscionable. This nation has always said that we would never use nuclear armaments on a “first strike” basis. Bush was the first to threaten by implication that we would violate that policy, and Hillary Clinton is now echoing that threat.

I am no longer lukewarm about Hillary Clinton. I have now become utterly opposed to this pernicious, evil wingnut. Like John McCain, she is so hungry for power, so corrupted by the vision of holding the “throne” of this country’s highest office that she will say anything, no matter how dishonest, that she thinks will secure her the votes of those who will award her the nomination.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

We voted for this?

In November of 2006 the people of this country spoke at the ballot boxes. Exactly what they said may be less than crystal clear to some, but it certainly revolved around two issues, one being the war in Iraq and the other being corruption and cronyism in government. It seemed pretty clear at the time that the voters wanted change in both of those issues; they wanted an end to the war in Iraq and they wanted cleaner government.

I realize that it is early days, but so far I do not see even a start of the change that the voters demanded, merely self-serving pretense.

The war rages on while Congress dithers with non-binding resolutions and the individual members thereof are more concerned with how their stance will affect their chance at reelection than with how it will affect their country. The House passes a resolution pretty much along party lines, while the Senate cannot even bring itself to debate such a thing, let alone vote on it.

Representative Murtha writes a bill to require that our soldiers be properly rested, equipped and trained before they are sent into combat and he cannot muster the whole-hearted support even of his own party.

The House passes a long overdue minimum wage increase and the Senate kills it because they want a bill that also contains $8 Billion in tax cuts for their business campaign contributors. Individuals making minimum wage don’t contribute to political campaign funds.

Various committees are holding "investigations" into corruption, but so far they are nothing more than stage plays. They ask where the huge amounts of money disappeared to, for instance, and then they calmly accept any nonsense answer that they are given and move on.

"Well, we were in the middle of a war, and it was difficult to get receipts."
"Oh, okay. Thank you."“
Next question.

The things that are done in government are not going to change until the way that things are done changes.

From the moment that today’s politician is elected that person is planning for reelection. The final vote is not even made official and that person is already trying to obtain money to finance reelection campaign coffers. For the entire term of office the actual process of governing takes a back seat to "deal making" and financing the business of reelection. Every vote, every speech, every move is made with consideration of how that move will affect reelection or, worse, how it will affect eventual election to higher office.

To change the corrupt manner in which our government works we need to rid ourselves of the career politician. We don’t need campaign finance reform and we don’t need term limits. We just need to quit reelecting them.

In the Senate we only had a shot at one-third of them last year. We get a shot at another one-third in 2008. We could have cleaned the entire House last time but we didn’t quite get the job done. We need to sweep with a bigger broom in 2008. Forget party lines, vote for cleanliness. Vote for "fresh air" to clean up a smog-ridden city.

We made a start last year, but we aren’t there yet. We need to not stop.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blueberry Pecan Pancakes

First, a note on the Grillards. I hadn’t made them in a while and writing the blog piece moved me to do so last week. That, in turn, reminded me that the written recipe is not altogether accurate. It was written, I believe, by my mother years ago but has no quantities on it and the directions are sketchy at best. It says to simmer for 1-2 hours, but in actuality it needs a minimum of 2 hours, and 3 hours is better. I updated the post with that and a couple other notes.

For this food blog, we’re going to have breakfast. I usually promise my wife on Monday that I am going to make these Blueberry Pecan Pancakes on the coming weekend, and then she’s happy all week looking forward to them. The recipe works equally well either on the griddle or in the waffle iron, which would make them Blueberry Pecan Waffles.

I certainly prefer using fresh blueberries, but that isn’t always possible of course. Frozen work fine, but thaw them completely beforehand. In either case, make sure they are rinsed quite thoroughly and well drained.

How you treat the pecans is up to you. You can leave them in halves if you are making pancakes, but that will cause problems in a waffle iron. Even for pancakes I usually chop them a little bit, but if you chop them too fine they lose their identity, and then you just have crunchy blueberry pancakes.

The basic recipe is another family recipe, been around since I was a toddler, but I have no idea as to its specific origins. The term “sweet milk” simply means “not buttermilk.”

Blueberry Pecan Pancakes

2-1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 eggs, separated
2 cups sweet milk
3/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp Vanilla

Blueberries, rinsed and drained
Pecan halves

You need three bowls. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix the liquid ingredients, with the exception of the egg whites, together in another bowl. In a third bowl whip the egg whites until they are stiff.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix well, then fold in the egg whites, and finally fold in the blueberries and pecans in whatever quantity you wish. I like a “well populated” pancake with lots of fruit and nuts.

Pour batter on griddle to make cakes about 8” in diameter. When bubbles in the center are just starting to remain open turn the cake over and brown lightly on the other side.

Butter and syrup on the table, and some nice patty sausage on the side.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Warming to Hillary

I am trying to warm to Hillary Clinton for several reasons.

While I was offended by his inability to keep his instrument in his pants, I was and continue to be an admirer of her husband as a leader and a statesman. He is a brilliant and charismatic person, and he cares about doing for others.

My wife is a near-charter member of NOW and, initially out of respect for her but increasingly because I have come to see their position as just, I have become something of what used to be called a feminist. (I’m not sure what they are called today, but I’m still one of them.) I firmly believe that a female president would be a very good thing for this country.

But I just cannot warm to Hillary Clinton, no matter how much I try to do so. She has been described as "calculating," and to me that word fits all too well. Her words always seem scripted rather than honest; they always seem to reveal not so much what she thinks or feels but rather what she believes will best serve her purpose.

A case in point is her absolute refusal to avoid even approaching the admission of error in her vote approving the war in Iraq. She dances around it, she changes the subject (usually to an attack on Bush), but she is a person who will not admit that she was wrong or that she made a mistake.

John Edwards voted the same way she did, and here’s what he says,

"It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn't make a mistake -- the men and women of our armed forces and their families -- have performed heroically and paid a dear price.

While we can't change the past, we need to accept responsibility, because a key part of restoring America's moral leadership is acknowledging when we've made mistakes or been proven wrong -- and showing that we have the creativity and guts to make it right."

Here are a couple of quotes from Hillary Clinton,

"Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn't have voted that way."

"If I knew then what I know now I wouldn't have voted that way. It was Bush who made the mistake, leading us into…"

Her response places the blame on those who gave her the information, and accepts no responsibility herself. What she doesn’t include in her response is that there were those who knew, or at least suspected, a great deal then of what we know now. There were those who were questioning the rationale for the decision, and those who spoke out and voted against it. Hillary Clinton wasn’t one of them.

When you make a decision merely on the information that is placed in front of your face, without questioning the validity of that data or seeking to obtain knowledge of what other data may be available, and that decision turns to be not only wrong but disastrous, you cannot blame the information you were given or the person who gave it to you. The error is yours in that you failed to exercise due process before making the decision.

Hillary Clinton wants us to overlook her failure of due process and join her in blaming the Bush Administration for giving her bad information, to not just overlook her failure but to reward her for it.

I have known of quite a number of people who will not admit to ever having made a mistake. They are dangerous people to be around. George W. Bush is one of them, and it would seem to appear (I suspect erroneously) that Hillary Clinton is another.

The reason I suspect that appearance to be deceiving is that I suspect that her position on that vote may actually be the "calculations" of Hillary Clinton gone awry. The pundits are saying that she cannot admit mistake on the war vote because she needs to appear strong on security, needs to appear decisive, cannot appear to flip flop, etc.

One cannot really doubt that she is well aware of those needs, so I sense that we are hearing not what she thinks or feels about that vote, but rather what she believes will best serve her purpose. When asked about her vote on the war, her reply is phrased to serve her need to appear strong on national security, etc., rather than being an honest answer to the question.

I’m actually used to that kind of empty political rhetoric, so while it isn’t drawing me to her it also is not really turning me against her either. But it gets worse. I don’t have the date, but recently she delivered this in response to a question about her vote for the war in Iraq,

"As a senator from New York, I lived through 9/11 and I am still dealing with the aftereffects," Clinton said. "I may have a slightly different take on this from some of the other people who will be coming through here."

"I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies,"
she went on, "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so."

I really thought, hoped, that we were finished with conflating the events of September 11th with a dictator in Iraq who not only had nothing to do with those events, but who was an enemy to the group who was the perpetrator of them.

To invoke 9/11 when asked about Iraq is a degree of cold calculation that is unconscionable. In trying to justify her vote on the war she is trying to justify the war itself. That goes beyond calculation and into actual dishonesty.

That dishonesty reeks of desperation, so determined to justify the unjustifiable that she uses Bush’s justification of Saddam’s involvement with 9/11 to serve her own purpose. She even goes so for as to use the "they’ll follow us home" rationale that even Bush has abandoned as hopeless, and to which only a few rabid Republicans are still desperately clinging.

It is just impossible for me to warm to this person. I really want to. The more I hear from her, though, the less I think that I could vote for her.

The problem with the two party system is that I may have no choice. In all probability it will, in Nov 2008, be a choice between her and John McCain.

If so, I will write in my wife’s name.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Standards of Evidence

After delaying it for reasons that spokespersons could not agree upon, the demonstration of the proof of Iran’s intervention in Iraq was finally trotted out yesterday. There were, in my observation and insofar as I have been able to obtain any reportage on this landmark event, a few shortcomings.

It was held in "The Green Zone" in Baghdad, which has not exactly achieved the reputation as being any kind of fountain of truth.

The three officials who presented the briefing insisted on remaining anonymous. All three of them had to conceal their identities so that the "explosives expert" could speak about the munitions that were being displayed. It was not clear to me why even the explosives expert had to remain anonymous, but not even any fairy tale explanation was offered as to why the other two could not identify themselves.

The report is filled with "officials said" and sadly lacking in phrases such as "officials demonstrated," "officials illustrated" or "officials proved." They lay out some PVC tubes with markings on them and tell reporters a) they are deadly weapons which b) came from Iran and c) were given to Iraqi insurgents by Iran. There was also on display tailfins from exploded mortars which reportedly came from Iran and were given to Iraqi insurgents by Iran, with no actual proof offered other than that the briefing official said so.

a) Notably, they did not disassemble these deadly weapons and show the parts or demonstrate that they actually had anything inside them as was being described. The reporters were required to take the briefer’s word that the PVC tubes were, in fact, the deadly devices he was describing.

b) As proof that these devices came from Iran the briefer said that they contained parts which had sophisticated machining which had to have been done in Iran because, he said, they had no evidence that it had ever been done in Iraq. First, Iraq is a rather large place, so does your lack of evidence really prove that it could not have been done in Iraq? At one point the US thought that Iraq was capable of making nuclear bombs, now we are convinced that that lack the capability for some rather basic machining. Even if it was not done in Iraq, how does that prove it was done in Iran? It could have been done in, say Germany. Not that I think it was, but the offer of “proof” is absurd.

c) If they originate in Iran (actually a bit dubious) and they are presently located in Iraq, then Iran gave them to Iraq. Actually that's what's called a non sequitur, as it is by no means the only explanation. Hezbollah has arms that came from Iran and might very well give or sell them to the insurgents in Iraq. Or an arms broker bought them….

The whole thing is, at best, flimsy. To say that I am not sold would be one of the great understatements of all times, and that does not even address the issue of why Iran would give or sell weaponry to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq who we claim to be our enemy there. They might well give them to their Shia brethren, but the Shia are supposedly who we are supporting.

I like to read British media, since they tend to be less "snowed" by the output of our government’s propaganda machine than the American press. If you think that I was unimpressed by the latest dog and pony show, read what the Independent thought about it here.

I’m not sure what our government and our military is up to in Iraq, and that is really the point. I should be sure, not as to specific movements or tactics, but as to goals.

The briefings that are being given in the Green Zone are looking more and more like the briefings that were given in Saigon during Viet Nam. Those briefings were not given for the purpose of informing the press and the public, they were propaganda for the purpose of prolonging the war and for concealing actions of our military, the damage that was being done to that misbegotten country and its people and the actual losses that were being incurred by our armed forces, how many men (only men were in combat then, men and women today) were dying and being maimed.

More evidence of Viet Nam redux.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Molly has rediscovered her bed

We bought Molly this bed when we adopted her, about two years ago. She used it for a while, and then ignored it completely for more than a year. About a month ago she rediscovered it and it is once again her favorite place to "hang out." Well, what the hell, she's a cat.

That is, it's her favorite place when she isn't on my desk biting and batting any pen or pencil that happens to be lying loose.

She loves Spam. It's a bit wierd, really. If I am making lunch and open a can of tuna she can be right there in the kitchen and will not react at all. Ho hum, no interest at all in the tuna. But she can be in the back bedroom sound asleep, and if I open a can of Spam she is in the kitchen crying and ankle polishing before I even have the contents out of the can. If I don't give her a little piece of Spam she will climb my leg.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Appalling priorities

There are men and women fighting and dying in a country far from home under circumstances that are controversial and that matter greatly to all of us, but most of all to their families.

Congress is gridlocked in the disturbing self-serving maneuvering of politicians who are more interested in preserving their positions of power than they are in serving their constituents or their country.

A criminal trial is being conducted with implications for the man next in line for the highest office in this land.

And what is not only the lead item on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, but is considered worthy of almost a full quarter-hour and the contribution of no fewer than three guest commentators?

That’s right, the death of a woman who, to paraphrase Attywood,

"…took off her clothes for a men's magazine for a big payday, worked as an exotic dancer and married a billionaire customer who was 63 years older than herself. She spent most of her adult life pursuing that billionaire's estate in courtrooms from Texas to Washington, D.C., recorded her life for a reality TV show, abused drugs, and gave birth to a child whose paternity is the focus of a legal battle."

This is a woman who appears to have spent her entire life in the single-minded pursuit of the self gratification and the satisfaction of her more base appetites, who appears to have never given even the most fleeting thought to serving any needs other than her own.

It is appalling to me that our media, commentators who refer to themselves as news persons, would even discuss the end of such a meaningless life, much less make it a lead story, much less devote more time to it than to all of the matters that I referred to in the beginning of this post.

Anna Nicole, Paris, Brittany… Women who have never done one single worthwhile thing, but who wallow in the adulation of the news media and stand in front of the cameras posturing like prostitutes in the window of an Amsterdam whorehouse.

And national news is after the commercial break.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Southern Cooking

A commenter said that my menu made it sound like I was raised in the south. Actually, my father was a career Air Force officer, so I grew up sort of a gypsy. My mother’s family was from Louisiana though, and my father’s from Arkansas, so culturally I was very much raised “Southern” and certainly as to cuisine that would be the case.

Cooking has long been a serious interest of mine, which is fortunate since my wife’s cooking is, to say the least, a bit limited. She bakes quite well, makes wonderful pumpkin pie, and her potato salad is the best made West of the Mississippi River, but that’s pretty much it. She probably could cook just fine if she was interested in it, but she just doesn’t like to cook as much as I do.

I have retained quite a few methods and recipes from my mother’s side of the family, and my cooking leans toward Creole and Cajun. Those are by no means the same thing, but I will save that discussion for another time. I reap recipes from the paper and other sources, but I usually modify them to suit my own taste and procedures, often changing them to the point that the originator would not really recognize them. The changes that I make usually wind up imparting a somewhat Creole character to the dish.

I have gathered some great recipes from others’ blogs, and it seems fair that I share some of my favorite dishes in return. So here goes.

My Grandmother Lelia’s Grillards

This one is pure Lelia Schneidau – I would not dream of changing her masterpiece by one iota. It’s pronounced “gree-yards” by the way, and I have been eating this since I was weaned. I’m kind of guessing at quantities, because when I make it I sort of freelance the amounts (as did Grandma), but not the items.

½ lb round steak
1 med onion, diced
3 stalks celery diced
1 bell pepper diced
1 can 15oz diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
3 cloves garlic
½ tsp basil
1-2 bay leaves
½ tsp thyme
1 cup white wine (Sauterne, Pinot Grigio)
Worchester sauce

First you take and make a roux. (See "Making a Roux" below.) When it has reached medium, to maybe a little darker than medium, add the onion, celery and peppers all at once and cook until they just start to become limp, stirring frequently. Put that into a pot and add tomatoes and wine and bring to a simmer over low heat. Depending on your roux, this is likely to be very thick, so you may need to add some water. It should be a little thicker than a good thick pea soup.

Cut the meat into smallish pieces, flour it thoroughly (repeat thoroughly – flour it, let it sit and then flour it again) and then fry it in oil over medium heat until golden brown. Don’t worry about it cooking it through and through, and don’t burn it – just golden color, turning as needed. Add the meat to the pot.

Add the spices with a small shot of Worchester and just a touch of Tobasco. Simmer over low heat at least 3 hours and preferably 4 hours, adding water as needed. (Note, add boiling water, not tap, if the sauce becomes too thick. Think really thick pea soup.)

Serve over rice, cooked southern style.

Southern Style Rice

We had rice at every meal. We sometimes had potatoes as well, but we had rice on the table three meals every day. It was always fluffy, with every grain separate, because in the South they cook it to come out that way.

1 cup long grain white rice
1 tsp salt
1-3/4 cup water (not 2 cups as is usually stated)

Saut̩ the rice in the saucepan over medium-high heat, with just enough oil to moisten all of the grains, until about half the grains have become opaque. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. When it has just started to boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes without removing the lid. This is important Рdo not remove the lid or stir the rice while it is cooking. After 20 minutes remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Making a Roux

A great many Creole recipes start off with making a roux. If you don’t know how to do that the link above will get you started.

I make my roux in a cast iron skillet over high heat, and I use sunflower oil because it has the highest smoke point. Making roux, particularly dark roux, requires a certain amount of courage. My family saying is that you keep going until the second time you think it’s going to burn. Actually, for a really dark roux, you need to go until the third time you think that.

The link is absolutely right about a couple of things. One, forget the microwave. You cannot make a roux of any kind in the microwave. Two, do not stop stirring. If your husband has a heart attack, tell one of the kids to call 911 because you cannot stop stirring the roux.

This has been fun. I hope you enjoy the dinner.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Speaking Politically

The Senate failed us yesterday, and Russ Feingold is as unhappy about that shameful lack of courage as I am. You can read more about his opinions at Bob Geiger’s post today. Feingold says, in part,

"I simply can’t go home every week knowing that Wisconsin men and women are going to die for no good purpose at this point. Simply because politicians want to play it safe," he said quietly, near the end of the conference call. "There comes a point where it’s against my conscience to put up with that. So I am for as tough an approach as is necessary to end this war."

Mr. Feingold speaks plainly. He doesn’t say what he thinks you want him to say, he doesn’t express what he thinks you think he ought to think. (That was a little convoluted, did you stay with me?) When he speaks, his words reveal the man. I encourage you to click on the link and read the entirety of what Feingold has to say.

He reminds me of a couple of other senators I admired.

One was Sam Nunn of Georgia, another Democrat. There was a big Air Force project pending, with bidding between Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, and Nunn was favoring Boeing. When asked why he did not support the Lockheed-Martin bid, when the plane would be built in the factory near Atlanta, he minced no words. He said that he was a United States Senator and that it was his responsibility to vote for what was in the best interest of the country, that if Lockheed-Martin wanted the project they needed to improve both the airplane and the cost. Boeing won the contract and Nunn was reelected with a strong majority in the following election.

Sam Nunn was a brilliant thinker and his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee was one of the best things that ever happened to our military. He was a moral (in the true sense of the word) and decent man. He never said why he decided to quit running for reelection, but I always suspected that it was that Congressional policies and processes had simply become too distasteful.

The other was Barry Goldwater. (A Republican, but remember, I am originally from Arizona.) I didn’t always agree with Barry, but the man was as honest as the desert is dry, and as direct as the Sonora mid-day sun.

Ronald Reagan once described him thusly,

“This is a man,” Reagan said, “who in his own business, before he entered politics, instituted a profit-sharing plan, before unions had ever thought of it. He put in health and medical insurance for all his employees. He took 50 percent of the profits before taxes and set up a retirement program, a pension plan for all his employees. He sent checks for life to an employee who was ill and couldn’t work. He provided nursing care for the children of mothers who worked in the stores.”

He loved kachinas, and amassed a world class collection of them. Did he hide them away in some museum, or in his home for his own private pleasure? He did not. He placed them in his department stores so that all of the people of Arizona could share their beauty.

I can cite an aircraft project to illustrate his integrity also. Asked why he was not supporting the builder in Phoenix for the Apache helicopter, he replied, “Hell, they could build the damned thing in my living room and I’d fight ‘em till they get the price down.”

He was greatly loved by the people of Arizona, and was reelected overwhelmingly after that episode.

Contrast that with Hillary Clinton. Asked whether she was wrong to vote for the Iraq War Resolution, she replies as follows (several sources):

"Well, I've said over and over again, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. The President was the one who was wrong. The President led people to believe that he would be prudent in the exercise of the authority he was given. That proved not to be true. I think keeping the focus on the President and Vice President about what they did and didn't do, the mistakes they made, is really where it needs to be, because he's the only one who can reverse course."

Instead of actually answering the question, she uses the question to launch a political attack upon an opponent. That’s the formula today; one sentence which is marginally related to what the interviewer asked, and then switch to your own agenda and divert attention completely away from yourself.

She speaks carefully, and does not answer the question. What does that non- response really tell you about her? Does she believe that she should have known more about that vote at the time she made it? Does she believe that she could have known more? Does she have any sense that she was a participant in the Senate’s abdication of responsibility?

I remember once when Bill Clinton was debating Bush. It was one of those debates in shirt sleeves and wandering around. Clinton was answering a question from the audience and the moderator interrupted to offer Clinton an opportunity to slam Bush. I mean, it was an opening so obvious that a moron could walk in that door. Clinton’s response was, “Yes, I’ll address that in a moment if you want, but right now I’d rather finish answering this lady’s question if that’s okay.”

He went ahead and finished answering the question, and he really did answer it, thoughtfully and not just with slogans. The invited slam never happened, and I wanted to go to a polling place and vote for him at that moment. I didn’t want to wait for election day, I wanted to do it right then.

We need people who are not politicians but leaders. We need leaders, unlike the people presently in our Senate, with courage. We need leaders who are more concerned with leading than with polling well. We need people who, when asked a question, speak plainly and give real answers instead of making speeches and spouting slogans. We need candidates who have the courage to win and are not afraid to lose, candidates who do not “speak carefully” but who speak plainly and honestly.

I don’t want to hear about your opponent from you, I want to hear about you.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Midwestern Super Bowl (and menu)

I’ve never lived in either of the cities represented in today’s game, but when I lived in Milwaukee I visited Chicago and enjoyed it. Chicago is a great city.

There is also the name Manning.

Three years ago (four?) San Diego had first pick in the NFL draft and Eli Manning was expected to be the first pick. He made the statement, in a rather public manner, that if picked by San Diego he would not sign with us. He even went so far as to say that he would sit out the year and not play at all rather than sign with the San Diego Chargers. He wanted to play for a team that he could take to the Super Bowl, and San Diego had no talent (other than him, presumably, if we drafted him) and had no chance of ever reaching the Big One.

Well, we did draft him but within minutes of doing so traded him to the Giants for a fourth-round pick which we used to select Philip Rivers. We also got a few other players who have been first team for us.

Admittedly, we embarrassed ourselves at the end of this season by showboating in the payoff game to the degree that we lost to a lesser team. We did, in fact, display a rather shocking lack of personal character on the part of more than a few players in that game. Nonetheless, it was quite plain this season that the San Diego Chargers have a great deal of talent, including at quarterback.

It’s been a few years, but the name Manning still rankles.

I like Chicago as a city, I like the Bears’ success story, and I want them to win the Super Bowl. And if they do, they will have beaten someone named Manning. That would be nice.

On my menu. Cornbread, the real stuff, Louisiana style the way my grandmother made it. No sugar in that recipe, this is bread, not muffins. Stewed tomatoes, with oregano and basil, to put on top of half of that cornbread. Black eyed peas, cooked since last night with ham hock, to put on the other half.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Alarming trends

One of my favorite bloggers, Glenn Greenwald, has just moved his blog from the open market (so to speak) to Salon, where it will be behind a subscription wall, albeit one which can be reached if you are willing to click through a rather modestly irritating advertisement.

As an aside, I actually would be willing to do that, but the site doesn’t always function properly in Windows 2000 using Firefox. Maybe it would if I subscribed, but I’m not willing to risk $60 to find out.

Back to Mr. Greenwald’s move.

He says that his move is justified by his need to make a living and that, in fact, the future of the blogosphere depends on people like him, blogging full time, being able to make a living from their blogs.

"I'm sorry that there are people who think that clicking through an ad (or subscribing to avoid it) is a grave insult and an outrageous imposition. It also can be an inconvenience for bloggers (or political analysts or activists of any kind) who -- driven by passion and a desire to contribute in some way to improving the state of the country -- spend 3 hours per day or 8 hours per day or 12 hours per day on their work without being able to earn a living. To begrudge someone the ability to do so -- or to act as though they are engaged in an act of betrayal or even some kind of corruption -- because they find a way to work on behalf of their political ideas and earn a living doing it is truly bizarre."

But to me his move to behind a subscription/ad wall is alarming in two ways.

First is that it suggests a trend toward less open blogosphere. Whether I would pay a subscription to read Mr. Greenwald’s column at this point, having already become a regular reader, is one thing. But I came across his column initially when I was "cruising" the open blogosphere. If his column had been behind the subscription/ad wall at that time, I almost certainly would never have seen it to begin with.

What happens when all of the skilled, insightful bloggers follow his lead? How much will it cost me to have subscriptions to all of the "for pay" sites on which their blogs reside? How will newcomers to the blogging world determine which columns they actually want to follow?

Will the trend lead to a blogosphere that is populated only by people who do not attract enough of a readership to be invited to move to the subscription sites? A blogosphere of writers, admittedly such as myself, who barely know what they are talking about?

Under that scenario the Internet news and commentary becomes a set of sites to which people pay subscriptions to read articles and op-ed pieces written by writers who are doing it on a full-time basis as a means of making a living. In what way precisely does that differ from what we call today the "mainstream media" and against which the blogosphere rails rather continuously?

Which leads me to the second and rather (to me) alarming trend in the blogosphere, and that is that there are people who are actually doing it full time with the expectation of making a living doing it. And, further, that they are of necessity doing it as parts of larger entities.

Mr. Greenwald says that Salon has given him a contract that assures that they will not in any way interfere with what he writes or how he writes it. I don’t doubt that for a minute, but I don’t believe that his writing will be unaffected by the environment in which he is writing. How can it not be? In fact, I suspect that it already has been.

Here is a paragraph from a piece he wrote in April 2006;

"As has been clear from the beginning, and as Savage notes, the significance of the NSA scandal was never about eavesdropping. Its significance lay in the fact that the President got caught red-handed violating the law on purpose, because he believes he has the power to do so. To defend his conduct, the administration has been forced to parade those theories around out in the open, and as a result, it is only a matter of time before the public starts to realize how severe the crisis is that we have in our country:"

Sharp words. Very specific, very much to the point, but not even bordering on hyperbole. Compare that with the quotation above. "I'm sorry that there are people who think that clicking through an ad (or subscribing to avoid it) is a grave insult and an outrageous imposition." Actually, nobody said that. They merely said that they didn’t like doing it. Since his guest posting at Salon, Mr. Greenwald’s writing has been increasingly filled with hyperbole and sarcasm. (Which is rather typical of Salon, and is another reason I plan not to subscribe.)

When one is engaged on a full time basis as part of a larger whole, one simply cannot remain unaffected. That is one of the shortcomings of the mainstream media; that individual item coverage tends to be affected by the opinion and style of the larger body. It isn’t necessarily that anyone wants this to happen, it is simply "the nature of the beast."

Even if unaffected by the larger environment, a full time writer is not the same as a true independent.

There is a difference between someone who emerges from an office in order to obtain facts from which to write a news or op-ed piece, and someone who lives in the same world as the reader and writes about his experiences and observations form the viewpoint of his passion for the social or physical environment in which he lives.

A journalist leaves the office to interview or watch a politician in action, then returns to the office to write about that politician. The blogger drives to work in rush hour traffic, works for wages, goes to lunch at McDonalds, drives home through rush hour traffic, and then writes a blog about how he feels about the effect that that politician is having on his life.

So the blogosphere evolves. Mr. Greenwald says this is a good change.
I’m not so sure.