Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami response

President Bush finally made a public appearance the other day to comment on the tsunami that may have killed more than 100,000 people in Indonesia and Tailand. I say finally because the tsunami struck on Saturday and Bush waited three whole days to respond.

Imagine the reaction of most Americans if other world leaders had waited even one day to react to or send condolensces after 9-11. In that context, Bush's lackadaisical response to this global disaster was an embarrassment.
Then there was the initial $15 million in aid that the Bush administration offered. It was only after people began to point out that was less than half the amount the Bush folks will blow in one day for the inauguration festivities next week that the sum was bumped up to $35 million. And even that is a tawdry amount in proportion to what will be needed.

The Washington Post ran a story that was justly critical of Bush's response. Here is the key parts of the story:

Although U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland yesterday withdrew
his earlier comment, domestic criticism of Bush continued to rise. Skeptics
said the initial aid sums -- as well as Bush's decision at first to remain
cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in
person about the tragedy -- showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of
suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri
Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.

Some foreign policy specialists said Bush's actions and words both
communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the
collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do
in the United States. "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of
terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that
you care," said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign

There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials
familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not
appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. "It's kind of
freaky," a senior career official said.

Kind of freaky, indeed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

National Film Registry

Two of my favorite films of all time have just been added to the National Film Registry:

"The Court Jester" starring Danny Kaye and "Going My Way" starring Bing

Other films of note in this year's list include:

The chariot-racing Biblical-classic "Ben Hur" starring Charlton Heston
The Bruce Lee Kung-Fu masterpiece "Enter the Dragon"
Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock"
The orinigal "The Nutty Professor" starring Jerry Lewis
Steven Spielberg's powerful "Schindler's List"
The musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
and the Clint Eastwood directed "Unforgiven" which took the Western tradition in
a new and darker direction.

National Film Registry:

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Fiscal train wreck on the horizon

From the Wall Street Journal:

“Interest on the nation’s borrowing is a big and growing budget item, one that cannot be cut except by slashing the debt itself. The $168 billion in annual payments, much of it to overseas holders of Treasury bonds, represents just over 7 percent of the federal spending. That’s more than the government will spend on education, housing, transportation, science, space and technology combined.”

The same article goes on to say that about 85 percent of the government’s $2.3 trillion in spending this year is untouchable by public consensus. That includes the 20 percent that goes toward defense (an area which has increased by 55 percent under President Bush). The war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are running about $5 billion a month.

And Bush wants to borrow another $2 trillion to finance his Social Security privatization scheme at the same time that he is pushing Congress to make his huge tax cuts for the wealthy permanent.

50 Great Songs

Here are 50 Great Songs that didn’t make the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list that came out last month.

1. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic - The Police
2. Do You Feel Like I Do - Peter Frampton
3. Don’t Look Back - Boston
4. Barracuda - Heart
5. Fly Like An Eagle - Steve Miller Band
6. Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry
7. Juke Box Hero - Foreigner
8. Tom Sawyer - Rush
9. Photograph - Def Leppard
10. Legs - ZZ Top
11. Jump - Van Halen
12. Rich Girl - Hall & Oates
13. Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel
14. Will The Wolf Survive - Los Lobos
15. Freeze Frame - J. Geils Band
16. Another One Bites The Dust - Queen
17. Living On A Prayer - Bon Jovi
18. Black Magic Woman - Santana
19. Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
20. Turn To Stone - ELO
21. Takin’ Care of Business - Bachman Turner Overdrive
22. Get Lucky - Loverboy
23. Radar Love - Golden Earring
24. YMCA - The Village People
25. Girls Just Want To Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
26. Crazy On You - Heart
27. Gimme All Your Lovin’ - ZZ Top
28. Centerfold - J. Geils Band
29. You Got Lucky - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
30. Just What I Needed - The Cars
31. You Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC
32. We Got The Beat - The Go Gos
33. Who Are You - The Who
34. Like A Virgin - Madonna
35. What I Like About You - The Romantics
36. Just The Way You Are - Billy Joel
37. Running With The Devil - Van Halen
38. Thriller - Michael Jackson
39. Under Pressure - Queen w/ David Bowie
40. Spirits In The Material World - The Police
41. Band On The Run - Wings
42. Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
43. Whip It - Devo
44. Start Me Up - The Rolling Stones
45. Sowing The Seeds Of Love - Tears For Fears
46. Time - Pink Floyd
47. LA Woman - The Doors
48. Sir Duke - Stevie Wonder
49. Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat and Tears
50. Remedy - The Black Crowes

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Greatest Hits collections

CNN has a list of what they deem to be the best of the Best Ofs
or the greatest Greatest Hits collections available on single discs.

Let me just say right off that their selections are awful. Yuck! I would throw out half of them in a heartbeat. You know something is wrong when they select as the very top greatest hits collection “Echo and the Bunnymen.” Their list is chock full of 80’s era New Wave Euro-Pop junk. Some of their other favorites that I would discard include:

The Cure
The Smiths
Siouxsie and the Banshees
New Order
A Tribe Called Quest
Gang of Four
The Cramps
The Buzzcocks
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Pet Shop Boys
The Jam
The Pixies
Depeche Mode
The Specials

Their list isn’t all bad. Here are some that they get right:

"Changesbowie," David Bowie (1990)
"Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)," the Rolling Stones (1966)
"Endless Summer," the Beach Boys (1974)
"Chronicle, Vol. 1," Creedence Clearwater Revival (1976)
"Smash Hits," Jimi Hendrix (1969)
"Legend," Bob Marley (1984)
"The Very Best of Prince," Prince (2001)
"Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy," the Who (1971)
"20 All-Time Greatest Hits!," James Brown (1991)
"ELV1S 30 #1 Hits," Elvis Presley (2002)
"Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits," Bob Dylan (1967)
"1," the Beatles (2000)
"The Great Twenty-Eight," Chuck Berry (1982)
"Greatest Hits," Aerosmith (1980)
"Greatest Hits," Elton John (1974)
"Greatest Hits: We Will Rock You Edition," Queen (2004)
"Greatest Hits," the Doors (1996)
"Number Ones," Michael Jackson (2003)
"Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be)," Willie Nelson (1981)
"Eponymous," R.E.M. (1988)

And they at least give honorable mentions to:

"The Best of 1980-1990," U2 (1998)
"Complete Greatest Hits," the Cars (2002)
"Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)," the Eagles (1976)
"The Very Best of Otis Redding, Vol. 1," Otis Redding (1992)

One problem with their list is that they limit it to single disc collections. I can understand not including big pricey box sets, but two-disc sets should not be off limits. By including two-disc collections we can pick up a number of other great sets like:

The Bee Gees Greatest
Rush - Chronicles
Neil Young: Decade
Billy Joel: Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gold and Platinum

And I’m sure there are many others.
But since they filled their list with so many throwaway New Wave and Punk groups they left no room for:

Bruce Springsteen
The Police
ZZ Top
Van Halen
The Band
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Ray Charles
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
John Mellencamp
Van Morrison
Rod Stewart
Stevie Wonder
Hall & Oates
Simon & Garfunkel
James Taylor
Roy Orbison
Peter Gabriel
Johnny Cash
Buddy Holly
Cheap Trick
Smashing Pumpkins
Los Lobos
The Black Crowes
Deep Purple
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Bon Jovi
Buffalo Springfield
Billy Squier
Gordon Lightfoot
Jim Croce
Talking Heads
REO Speedwagon
Rick Springfield
Lyle Lovett
Dwight Yoakum
John Denver
Eric Clapton
The B-52s
The Kingston Trio
The Doobie Brothers
Little Richard
Neil Diamond
Jerry Jeff Walker

OK, I’ll stop now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

33 Questions

I swiped this from Keri at 500 Miles From Nowhere and she swiped it from someone else.

White, but my wife wants them painted soon.
“The Discoverers” By Daniel J. Boorstin
Star Trek
I always liked Trivial Pursuit. Haven’t played it in ages, though.
The New Yorker
Burnt orange
Four or five I think. I’m always having to talk over the answering machine before folks hang up.
My house and my lot which backs up to a lovely green belt.
French vanilla
Who doesn’t?
Yes. They’re everywhere!!
Very cool. Especially those fantastic lightning shows off in the distance.
Vanilla Coke
July 5
Tomatoes, sliced and covered with fresh mozzarella.
An editorial columnist. Then I could inflict my views on a huge audience every week.
My hair started turning gray when I hit 30, but I’m perfectly OK with it. Really.
Non-stop since 1990.
21) TOP THREE FAVORITE MOVIES (NOT IN ORDER because I couldn't possibly pick an order)? (AKA Movies I can watch over and over) And this changes on a regular basis...
Back To The Future
The Court Jester
Lord of the Rings
The cat whenever he’s done something bad.
Bush getting re-elected. Oops! Time to pick a new one.
All time: Ken Burn’s Jazz
Right Now: The Rolling Stones: Exiles on Main Street
All time: Star Trek/X-Files
Right now: Lost
Lot of good hamburger places here.
I like big cities with lots of history! New York, Boston, Chicago.
My son sitting in Santa’s lap.
Nope and not really.
Mamacita’s. They have the best chicken flautas made with flour tortillas.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Some movie reviews

I, Robot

Maybe some day there will be a movie called “Isaac Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’”
This movie was so far removed from the story that Asimov told that they dared not even say “Based on the book by ...” in the credits. Instead, they say “Suggested by a book by Isaac Asimov.”
About the only things the book and the movie share is the reference to Asimov’s famous Laws of Robotics, which are spelled out at the beginning of the film.

That being said, however, this was not a bad movie. It’s by no means a classic, but it is a decent B-movie action flick and worth the price of a rental at the least. Will Smith plays a futuristic cop chasing down rouge robots with the same zeal that he showed chasing aliens in the Men in Black movies. I enjoyed picking out the Chicago landmarks I saw this summer from the futuristic cityscape designed for the movie.


This is a premature review because I haven’t finished watching the movie. I bought a used copy from Hollywood Video a while back and we just sat down last night and watched the first part of it. So far it has been pretty good, I was looking forward to seeing Viggo Mortensen in his first film since “Lord of the Rings,” but I was immediately struck by the plot similarities with Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai.”
Both films are set in the post-Civil War era and feature a protagonist who is profoundly changed after witnessing a U.S. Army massacre of an unarmed Indian village. Both protagonists then become alcoholics and wind up as performers in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Then they each decide to seek out a new path by facing challenges in a foreign country: Tom Cruise goes to China and Viggo Mortensen goes to Saudi Arabia.
Hopefully, this is where the similarities end and I will enjoy the rest of the movie.

Defending Donald Rumsfeld

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, long a pariah of the left, is now taking flak from the political right. Recently he has been harshly criticized by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Despite Bush’s efforts to defend Rumsfeld, his support is continuing to erode and now a new poll shows 52 percent want him out.

Now, I agree that Rumsfeld should be out on his rear due to the awful miscalculations and mismanagment of the war in Iraq. But then so should the entire Bush administration starting with our Incompetent Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, when we had an opportunity to do just that a little more than a month ago, 51 percent of my fellow citizens chose to send this same crew back to Washington for four more years. So what good would it do to replace Rumsfeld now, when all he is doing is following the orders set out by Bush and Co.? If people are finally acknowledging that things aren’t going as smoothly in Iraq as they could or should be, they need to look further than Rumsfeld to lay the blame. Something has to change besides just the people carrying out the administration’s marching orders.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Disney’s rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall...

Disney shut
its traditional animation studio earlier this year essentially
conceding that the future belongs to computer animation.
The last big Disney release in the traditional style was “Home on the Range”
which did mediocre at the Box Office ($50 million), slightly less than
”Brother Bear” ($85 million) which had preceded it.
Disney has been on a downward
since the peak of its latest animation renneissance with “The
Lion King” ($328 million) in 1994. The next year, “Pocohantas” pulled in
less than half that amount ($141 million) and in 1996 “The Hunchback of
Notre Dame” just barely made it across the $100 million mark. Even worse,
1997’s “Hercules” couldn¹t even break into triple digits, stalling at $99
million and becoming the first major Disney animated release to miss that
mark since 1990’s “The Rescuers Down Under.”
”Mulan” did slightly better in 1998 ($120 million) as did “Tarzan” in 1999
($171 million), but none were breaking box office records like Disney
executives had hoped.
In the meantime, Pixar’s computer animated films like “Toy Story” ($191
million), “A Bug¹s Life” ($162 million) and “Toy Story II” ($245 million)
were mopping up at the box office.
So Disney tried to revamp its formula, first with a hipper, cutting edge comedy “The Emperor’s New Groove” ($89 million) and then with the modernistic “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ($84 million). Then it looked like they were finally heading back in the right direction with the minor hit “Lilo & Stitch” ($145 million). But Pixar had just released ”Monsters Inc.” ($255 million) and Disney’s next film was the hugely disappointing “Treasure Planet” which made a paltry $38 million.
That is probably when the Disney executives decided to pull the plug. They went ahead and let the last two films in the pike finish up and then they canned their animation staff.

I think that will prove to be a big mistake. This is not the first time Disney went through a downturn with its animation pictures. The first golden period started right at the beginning with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1937. This was followed by a string of hits that are now classics including “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” in 1940, “Dumbo” in 1941 and “Bambi” in 1942. But things fell off during the latter part of the decade when the most memorable film was probably “Song of the South” in 1946.
But Disney bounced back with another string of hits in 1950 beginning with “Cinderella”, followed by “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). This strong period carried into the 1960s with “101 Dalmations” (1961), “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “The Jungle Book” (1967).
But then things fell off once again and there was another long period with few hit movies until the studio hit its stride once more beginning with “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and “Aladdin” in 1992 leading up to “The Lion King.”
If Disney’s current executives would just be patient I’m sure the studio would strike another vein of gold before long. But now they may have gone and killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Missing Movies - 2004

I’ve been pretty remiss in my movie watching this year. I guess being a new parent had somethingto do with it.
I’ve only seen two movies in the theater this year - Spider Man II and National Treasure. But what is most surprising to me is that I have only seen six movies overall that were released in 2004:

Spider Man II
National Treasure
Shrek II
Fahrenheit 9/11
Around the World in 80 Days
Laws of Attraction

That’s it. Don’t ask me about Academy Awards this year. I haven’t a clue. Oh, I guess I could make an educated guess based on what I’ve read, but I haven’t seen anything that will get more than a couple of technical nominations.
I wasn’t quite this bad in 2003, but I was close. I’ve since caught up on most of the 2003 films I wanted to see and I likewise will probably see most of the 2004 movies in ‘05.

Following is my annual End of Year List of Movies I Still Want To See:

Finding Neverland
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Incredibles
Bourne Supremacy
I, Robot
Van Helsing
Polar Express
The Terminal
Ladder 49
The Manchurian Candidate
Friday Night Lights
Hell Boy
King Arthur
Home on the Range
Ocean’s Twelve
Sky Captain
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Alamo
The Passion of the Christ
The Day After Tomorrow
Shark Tale
Dodge Ball
Starsky & Hutch
Secret Window


So as not to seem like I have seen no movies this year, here are the 2003 films that I saw in 2004:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Finding Nemo
Matrix Revolutions
Master and Commander
The Last Samurai
Freaky Friday
Cold Mountain
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Love Actually
Lost in Translation
Under the Tuscan Sun
Secondhand Lions
Whale Rider

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The more things change...

The Wall Street Journal on Monday had a Page 1 feature story about the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. The reason for the story is to report the alarming news that the Corps is facing big changes being pushed by the new commandant Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne.
The only problem with the story (which unfortunately is not available online) is that it could have been written when I was there 20 years ago. The Corps is always undergoing big changes.
Here is what Van Alstyne is demanding: He wants the cadets to spend more time studying and less time hazing freshmen. That's not any different. They have always stressed studying and have tried various methods of getting cadet grades up. When I was there we had three hours a night of enforced study time. If you had a big test the next day you were allowed to sleep in and skip morning formation. The cadets with the highest grades usually got the best assignments and were promoted higher than the rest.
The article claims that cadets get up at 5 a.m. every morning and go on runs. I recall setting my alarm for 6 a.m. and morning runs were only done once a week and were a good excuse to get out of going to morning formation. It is true that some cadets wouldn't get enough sleep and would doze off in class, but the smart ones would not schedule early morning classes and would go back to bed for a couple of hours after morning formation.
The article also notes that Van Alstyne cracked down on some cadets who were caught paddling underclassmen with axe handles. But that practice was forbidden when I was there and would have earned a suspension even back then.
I always thought the Corps changed significantly between my freshman and sophomore years. That was the year that a cadet who had concealed a heart condition from his superiors collapsed and died after a morning workout session. The commandant's office at the time came down pretty hard on us. Suddenly we were not allowed to make freshmen do more than a dozen push-ups at a time. We had to allow them to eat their meals - no more "fish bites" which meant three chews and swallow. Old Army was dead!
But in reality the Corps was still the Corps. Little things like that change all the time but the important things stay the same. This reporter obviously listened to too many old Ags who can't see the forest for the trees. When I read the story I see things haven't really changed that much after all.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Planting a legitimate question

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot last week during a Q&A session with soldiers about to go into Iraq when one of the troops asked the following question:

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?"

The question garnered cheers from the troops and proved a major embarrassment to Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.
But now the Pentagon is questioning whether the question was appropriate because it was apparently “planted” by a reporter who was embedded with the troops.

I don’t believe the reporter did anything wrong in this instance and the very fact that the Bush administration is raising this as an issue is simply an effort on their part to skirt the issue and divert attention from their own malfeasance and irresponsible handling of the Iraq war.
It is not like the reporter in question forced the soldier to ask a question that he wasn’t willing to ask himself. In fact, the question was based on concerns expressed by many soldiers that the reporter had come across while being embedded with their unit. The fact that the question garnered applause from the rest of the troops after it was asked bears this out.
Also, the fact that the question was crafted by the reporter and may not have been in the soldier’s own words shouldn’t make it any less credible. Otherwise we should probably question just about everything that comes out of President Bush’s mouth since most of what he says is pre-scripted for him by a White House speechwriter.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

GOP-style democracy - only Republican votes count

How is it that a bill with wide popular support that ultimately passed the House by a margin of 336 to 75 was almost derailed by a couple of Republican committee chairmen last week?
Answer: The Republican’s new rule that says that 49 percent of the people in the United States no longer matter.

”Speaker Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.
Hastert's position is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.”

Yes, that’s correct. Under the new rules established by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his puppet, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the only votes that matter in the House from now on are Republican votes. If you have a Democrat representing your interests in Congress then you do not matter.
How does this work? Simple. As Speaker of the House, Hastert can control which bills will be allowed to come to the floor of the House for a vote. The new DeLay/Hastert rule says that only bills with majority support among Republicans will pass that threshold. Isn’t that swell?
So even if a bill has broad support across the House - like the Intelligence Reform bill did - it can be held up by a handful of Republican chairmen and their little cadre of supporters. A bill that has the support of a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans would easily pass the overall House with a wide majority, but those bills will never see the light of day under the new rule.
If the Democrats had used this kind of petty partisanship when they were in the majority we would not have a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which passed with more Republican votes than Democratic votes.
As congressional scholar Norman Ornstein notes, the new "majority of the majority" maxim, is a disastrous recipe for tackling domestic issues such as entitlement programs and the deficit. But this is what we have to look forward to until the grownups can finally take charge again.
In the meantime, welcome to our new and improved Republican-style democracy. Yippee!

Monday, December 06, 2004

My favorite Christmas music

Ray Conniff Singers
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
I got my Christmas lights up, bought a tree and dug out all the Christmas music this past weekend. I've got more Christmas music than I can possibly listen to during a single holiday season, but like most people I have my favorites that must be played before it can truly be a traditional Christmas.
Here are some of my Christmas music essentials:

1. Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers, We Wish You a Merry Christmas:

This was one my parents had on reel-to-reel tape when I was growing up. When I went to college I found a copy on record and later bought it on cd. Whenever I put this music on I am immediately transported back to my earliest recollections of Christmas past. It is wonderfully rich, well-orchestrated music with a large choir doing their own takes on popular Christmas carols. "Ring Christmas Bells" is especially powerful. I'm sure my sentimental attachment to this music is the main reason it tops my list, but it is still very good by all accounts.

2. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Christmas Album:

Another reel-to-reel tape from my parents' collection that I have made my own. It definitely has that '60s time stamp on it, but that does not detract in any way from the wonderful music. I'm not sure who does the singing on this album, but their version of The Christmas Song will always be the first one that pops into my head so my apologies to Mel Torme and Nat King Cole.

3. Bing Crosby, White Christmas:

For the longest time this was the only Bing Crosby music I was familiar with, but it was always an integral part of every Christmas. Now, of course, I am a complete Bing fanatic and listen to all of his music year round. But I still have to come back to this album every year for more than just sentimental reasons.

4. Elvis Presley, Elvis' Christmas Album:

It would certainly be a Blue Christmas without Elvis. I'm not sure who does a better job on "I'll Be Home For Christmas", Elvis or Bing, but they both certainly sing the heck out of that song. This may not be the best Elvis Christmas album but it is the one that I have right now.

5. Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas:

I have all of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music, but this is the first one that kicked everything off in 1984. I remember it was a real revelation when it came out - mixing old renniassance-style acoustic music with then-cutting edge electronic synthesizers and orchestral arrangements.

6. The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin:

A master work by the Irish folk band that became an instant holiday classic. Should be in everyone's collection.

7. Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas:

IĆ¢??ve not found too many jazz Christmas albums that stick with me, but this one certainly does. The TV special is classic in its own right, but the music takes it to a whole other level and stands on its own.

8. Harry Connick Jr., When My Heart Finds Christmas:

I picked this one up a few years ago when I was looking for some new Christmas music and it has stood the test of time. Some great original tunes interspersed with classics with a jazzy-pop twist.

9. Tony Bennett, Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album:

See above.

10. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve and Christmas Attic:

A real treat. See these folks live if you ever get the chance. Kind of like Mannheim Steamroller but with electric guitars and a rock opera feel.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Alamo City Crossfire

My first post is now up at Alamo City Crossfire, the new blog set up to host debates on a variety of topics by a group of San Antonio-based bloggers.
The first topic up for discussion is the death penalty. Alamo City Commando who pilots the Express-News Watch blog will be posting the pro-death penalty argument in the next few days.
So check it out and remember that feedback and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A rare reprieve

Gov. Rick Perry has stopped the execution of Frances Newton that was scheduled for Wednesday evening, agreeing with a rare recommendation from the parole board that she should be temporarily spared from lethal injection for the slayings of her husband and two children.
I don’t know much about the case, but here is some background info.
Newton claims to be innocent and blames the crime on a drug dealer. New tests that can be performed on gun powder residue may shed more light on the case. However, my opposition to the death penalty does not depend on the person’s guilt or innocence. I think it is wrong in either case.

Tonight I will be attending a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean at Travis Park United Methodist Church. Prejean is the nun who inspired the movie “Dead Man Walking” in which she was portrayed by Susan Sarandon. It should be interesting.

Later I will have more to say about the death penalty...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Cabinet shuffle

Bush’s first-term cabinet is continuing to drop like flies with the latest being Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. That brings the official total of cabinet vacancies to seven, but there are still question marks hanging over several other positions including Treasury.
Here is the tally so far:


Agriculture - Ann Veneman
Commerce - Don Evans (Carlos Gutierrez)
Education - Rod Paige (Margaret Spellings)
Energy - Spencer Abraham
Homeland Security - Tom Ridge
Justice - John Ashcroft (Alberto Gonzales)
State - Colin Powell (Condoleezza Rice)

Hanging by a thread:

Treasury - John Snow
Health and Human Services - Tommy Thompson

Still here:

Defense - Donald Rumsfeld
Veterans - Anthony Principi
Labor - Elaine Chao
Transportation - Norman Mineta
Interior - Gale Norton
Housing - Alphonso Jackson (took over for Mel Martinez when he ran for the U.S. Senate)

The latest rumor is that former Texas Senator Phil Gramm will replace Snow at Treasury... And so the nightmare continues...

Monday, November 29, 2004

Answers, I’ve got answers

From the comments in the previous post:

From Alan:

Q1: What about politics do you enjoy?

I probably got interested in politics because I enjoyed debate and public speaking when I was in grade school and it seemed like a logical place to go with those skills. But once I went into journalism it was my experience seeing how directly politics impacted people’s lives that really got me hooked.
For example, I wrote a story 12 years ago while working for a small paper in Connecticut about how one of the small towns I was covering - Westbrook - was being dragged into a lawsuit over a hazardous waste cleanup mess in Rhode Island. As I was looking into the story I learned that there was legislation pending in Congress that would have resolved the problem but it was being held up. The citizens of Westbrook had participated in a hazardous waste cleanup a couple of years earlier and had used a private company to collect the waste and take it to a disposal site. But the company that had collected the materials had gone out of business after leaving the materials at a site in Rhode Island that was later declared a toxic waste hazard because of other materials left by large corporate polluters. As it turned out, the bill that would have exempted municipalities that had followed all the proper state and federal procedures from any legal liability had been stalled when my favorite U.S. Senator - Phil Gramm of Texas - had decided to showboat his balanced budget amendment by hijaking the bill and attempting to insert his language into it. So, seven communities in Connecticut were being threatened with huge legal bills because Phil Gramm was using this legislation - which he didn’t care about one way or the other - to try and make an unrelated political point. Facinating stuff. And I was the only one who tied it all together and reported on it.

Q2: What is the single most positive life-changing event in your life?

Without a doubt that would be the birth of my son, Nathan. Suddenly life takes on a whole new meaning.
Before that it would have been meeting my wife, and before that probably my decision to join the Corps at Texas A&M.

Q3: What makes a liberal a liberal?

Interesting question. Most liberals today might better be described as conservatives because they are trying to conserve established programs such as Social Security, Medicare, a progressive income tax, legal abortion, health and safety regulations, the environment and so forth. Meanwhile conservatives would more aptly be described as radicals today because of their efforts to change, alter or eliminate those same programs.
Liberals are often tied to the idea of big government. This is because our bleeding hearts are always forcing us to stand up for the little guy who has been trampled under foot by the dominant majority. And big government is the best and most effective means for protecting the rights of those minorities. If we had left it all up to state’s rights advocates we would still have pockets of legalized segregation to this day.
Folks who want to bash big governement should consider the biggest and most liberal government entity we have today - the U.S. military. We don’t pretend to try and protect ourselves with 50 different state militias. And we don’t do it on the cheap, either. If our military can be the best in the world by taking this course, then why not our education system or our health care system?

From Robert:

(B).1. Who *really* wears the pants in the family?

That would be the guy in the No. 4 diapers. He definitely calls the shots these days.

(B).2. What Third World country would you like to visit, and why?

That would have been a tough one before Thanksgiving, but now it is easy. Brazil.
After seeing the pictures my friends Sean and Arlene took during their recent trip down there it is definitely a place I would like to visit. First, Rio de Janeiro is beautiful with the beach that the Girl from Impanema still frequents. But then further inland you can find one of the great wonders of the world - a series of magnficent waterfalls that makes the Niagra Falls in New York look tiny by comparison.

(B).3. What satisfies you most about writing?

A well-turned phrase has always delighted me. There is something very satisfying about putting thoughts and ideas down on paper in such a manner that makes other people want to remember it. In fact, I can think of few things in this life more important than imparting your thoughts and ideas to other people. If you are not communicating then you are not living life to its fullest.
Plus I guess I like seeing my work in print after its done. It’s that small ego trip that makes up for the pitifully small paychecks that we writers get.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Audience participation

This was taken from Robert at Beginner's Mind :

(A) First, recommend to me:
1. a movie
2. a book
3. a musical artist, song, or album

(B) I want everyone who reads this to ask me three questions, no more, no less. Ask me anything you want.

(C) Then I want you to go to your blog/journal, copy and paste this allowing your friends to ask you anything & say that you stole it from me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Comic suggestions

The San Antonio Express-News has a fairly decent comics selection although it still leaves a lot to be desired.
By my count they have 45 regular comics features - 39 on the two-page comics section, two that have been pushed over to the Advice page, Dilbert that runs in the Business section and three that are relegated to the Editorial page - Doonesbury, Mallard Fillmore and locally-based Nacho Guarache.

Of these there are about a dozen that I read regularly even on a busy day and a few more I might skim if I have a little more time. They include:

For Better or For Worse
Rose is Rose
Fox Trot
Get Fuzzy
One Big Happy
Non Sequitur
The Piranha Club

If I have time I may also read:

Baby Blues
Jump Start
Sally Forth
Classic Peanuts
and Dilbert

And on rare occasion I may also skim:

Beetle Bailey
Wizard of Id
Mother Goose and Grimm
and Family Circus

Strips that can go away as far as I’m concerned include:

The Lockhorns
The Quigmans
Born Loser
Broom Hilda
Amazing Spider Man
Hi & Lois
Hagar the Horrible
Dennis the Menace
Fred Bassett
and Grand Avenue

If the E-N would clear off some of the dead wood from its comics page it could make room for some far superior strips. Here are a few of the very best that I try to read everyday online:

Big Nate
Rudy Park
Heart of the City

They might also consider adding a couple of liberal strips like:

The Boondocks
La Cucaracha

to balance out the right-wing troika of Mallard/Nacho/Prickly City that currently goes up against Doonesbury.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Privatization boondoggle

Wow, this is like stepping back into a time machine. The Kerr County Commissioners are bidding to purchase the juvenile detention center in Kerrville.

I was writing about this story 10 years ago when I was a reporter at the Kerrville Daily Times. Back then there was this company called Rehabilitation and Corrections Corp. or Recor that was proposing to build a private juvenile facility for $2.5 million and pay for it by bringing in juveniles from all over the region. At the time I was highly skeptical of the proposal especially since the state was saying it would not reimburse counties at the rates that Recor was planning to charge.
But privatization was the big thing back then and Republicans were touting it as the answer to every problem, so they went ahead with the plan.

I have no idea what all took place during the interim. Recor is apparently long gone - I can find nary a trace of them on Google - and now some group of investors have been left holding the bag. And now the county wants to buy the facility outright, something they probably should have done 10 years ago.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Bush Library

I visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station this weekend. It was the first time I had been there and I have to say it was pretty nice. I didn’t get to spend as much time looking at all the exhibits as I might have – what with a 15-month-old running around having lots of fun – but I saw enough to get the gist of the place and I will probably go back a number of times.

One thing that struck me in light of the criticism leveled at the recently opened Clinton Library in Arkansas is how unfair it is to expect a president to highlight negative things about themselves in their own library. Bush certainly did not. There was no mention of Bush’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal or his decision to pardon Casper Weinburger which brought an end to further investigation of the incident. There was no mention of his broken “No New Taxes” pledge or about the time that he got sick and vomited on the Japanese prime minister.

There was nothing but glowing, good news about the Bush years. Even the newspaper headlines that were featured as parts of the exhibit were clipped from the Bush-friendly Washington Times rather than the Washington Post. But that is his prerogative.

I tried hard in 1988 to see that there would never be a Bush Library, (I still refuse to refer to George Bush Drive in College Station as anything other than Jersey Street) but once that effort failed I was at least glad that he built it at Texas A&M – an ideal location by my estimation.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Fellow San Antonio blogger Alamo City Commando invited me to take part in a point/counterpoint between local bloggers the other day that he was hosting at his site. The topic was gay marriage and Ben Kaminar of Ben's World was first up with a post in opposition.
My response in favor of the topic is here.

I think this is a great service that Commando is promoting. The exchange of ideas is what the blogosphere should be all about. Hopefully, we can have more of these in the future on equally interesting topics.
I propose the next topic can be on the death penalty. Guess which side I'll take!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Movie quotes

The American Film Institute (AFI) is doing yet another Top 100 list this time for the greatest all-time movie quotes.
You can go here to see the list of 400 nominees that will be under consideration by a panel of 1,500 movie industry folks.
I haven't had time to peruse the entire list yet, so I'm not going to say which one's I would pick yet, but I think just about anything from "Casablanca" is a good bet.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Blue Values

Guess which state has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

One of the Bible Belt states? Wrong! It's Massachusetts,
the most liberal state in the country. Not only does Massachusetts have fewer divorces per capita than any other state in the union, they also have the highest rate of high school and college graduation.

Wow! Those blue staters must be doing something right!

The lowest divorce rates are largely in the blue states: the Northeast and the upper Midwest. Meanwhile states like Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas that voted overwhelmingly for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage have some of the highest divorce rates in the country.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

More unsolicited advice

Democrats are getting lots of advice from helpful right-wingers these days. In today’s Express-News we have local right-wing columnist Jonathan Gurwitz urging Democrats to “Shape Up” because Republicans “could use a worthy opponent.”

So the Republicans squeak by with the slimmest electoral victory since Woodrow Wilson and suddenly the Democrats are no longer worthy opponents? John Kerry gets more votes than Ronald Reagan did during his 1984 landslide over Walter Mondale and that doesn’t constitute a worthy opponent now? 55 million people voted for the Democrats this time, so I’m just wondering how many more would need to vote on our side before Gurwitz would consider us worthy?

But Gurwitz insists that the election results last week are in an indication that our two-party system in America is in dire jeopardy. So he has some suggestions on how we can “get our political house in order.”
Gurwitz says Democrats cannot effectively challenge Republicans even when they are going against their core principles by running up huge deficits with their rampant fiscal irresponsibility because we have “priced ourselves out of the marketplace of ideas with shrill attacks on the traditions and beliefs that animate most of our fellow citizens.”

Shrill attacks on traditions and beliefs? Could he mean supporting legal recognition of civil unions for gays and lesbians? Or maybe opposing Constitutional amendments to ban abortions so that desperate women will once again be forced to seek out unsafe methods to end unwanted pregnancies? Or was it because we didn’t believe that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to our security that justified a costly, expensive invasion and occupation of Iraq?

Nevermind all that. Gurwitz wants those of us on the left to “lose the hate” And he illustrates his point with the following hateful line: “When you allow the likes of Michael Moore and Ted Kennedy to take the Democratic wheel, they drive your party off a bridge into political oblivion.”
Get it! Ted Kennedy! Driving off a bridge! HAHAHAHA!! That’s a good one, Jonathan.
Funny, though, that one of the only actual accomplishments that Bush had to tout during his campaign was the education program that he got passed with the help of Ted Kennedy.

Next Gurwitz wants us to end our arrogance and condescension. Apparently, because some people have called Bush a moron, we are all guilty of that. I have called the Bush administration incompetent – a term also used by the conservative Economist magazine to describe them – but I acknowledge that it might be that they are just indifferent to governing the nation and don’t care what happens once they get their tax breaks approved.

Finally, Gurwitz points us to every Republican’s favorite part of the whole campaign – John Kerry’s consession speech. I’m sure if we Democrats would just start every campaign by conceding and then going along meekly with whatever the Republicans want to do then everything will be just peachy.

I don’t need Gurwitz to point out that we have some shrill and nutty people on the far left who probably frighten folks in middle America. I am aware of this. But I will point out that these folks are not in positions of power today and are not the ones calling the shots for the Democratic Party. The Republicans, on the other hand, have some very shrill and frightening people in very high positions of power in their party – starting with Tom DeLay.
Democrats don’t look to Michael Moore or to conspiracy nuts at Democratic Underground when they are drawing up legislation. But Republicans do look to the religious right kooks and other far-right groups when they draw up theirs. It is a problem that will eventually come back to haunt the Republicans if they don’t get their political house in order soon. Maybe I’m the one who should be giving advice to Gurwitz.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Nacho Guarache

Nacho Guarche
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
Nacho Guarache is a great local comic strip... Far superior to the awful Mallard Fillmore and the nauseating Prickly City. But it can still rub me the wrong way when he goes off on a tangent.

In this strip we have the token liberal - Grandma Fulano - mouthing the following nonsense:

"Maybe it is time we Democrats reevaluate the hard left direction the party has taken the last 40 years"

Last 40 years? What hard left direction is that, Mr. Garza? (Leo Garza is the strip's author) Are you referring to the Civil Rights movement? Social Security and Medicare? Or maybe the New Deal era social justice programs that pulled our nation out of the Great Depression?

She then goes on to say "Maybe we need to seriously reconsider that the party is totally at odds with the concerns and desires and values of 52 million decent and honest Americans."

I assume the 52 million figure is supposed to represent W's popular vote total - which was actually closer to 58 million.
But Garza would have us ignore the fact that 55 million decent and honest Americans voted for John Kerry and find the Republican Party totally at odds with their concerns and values.

Like I said, Nacho is a great strip, but it also has a mean side that comes out most strongly whenever Garza decides to attack people who disagree with his extreme views on abortion.

Playing Whack A Mole in Iraq

As our military wraps up a costly and hard fought effort to subdue insurgents in Fallujah, we are now getting reports that insurgents are popping up in other cities once thought to be under control.

”Despite the apparent success in Fallujah, violence flared elsewhere in the volatile Sunni Muslim areas, including Mosul, where attacks Thursday killed a U.S. soldier. Another soldier was killed in Baghdad as clashes erupted Friday in at least four neighborhoods of the capital. Clashes also broke out from Hawija and Tal Afar in the north to Samarra - where the police chief was also fired - and Ramadi in central Iraq.”

It feels like we are playing Whack A Mole. We bash one mole in Fallujah and three more pop their heads up in different parts of the country.

The Bush administration never thought this process through. They thought the war would have been over six months ago or earlier. So you know they are just spinning their wheels right now with no clue as what to do next. I just hope that those pre-election rumors that Bush would pull the troops out as fast as he could after the election prove to be more accurate than the exit polls. I don’t believe we can subdue an entire nation militarily. We need to pull our forces out and put in a U.N. peacekeeping force composed mostly of Arab and Muslim soldiers to try and clean up the mess that has been made.

A modest collection

I have a rather modest autograph collection that I have accumulated over the
years. I’m not a hobbyist and have never gone out of my way to get specific
autographs so my collections is kind of a random smorgasbord of happenstance
encounters over the years.

My parents got me started on it when I was a kid. I remember my folks
taking me to see “Cowboy Bob” (Bob Glaze) when I was about 6 or 7 and we were living in Indiana - Grissom AFB – in the early ‘70s. Cowboy Bob was the host
of an afternoon children¹s show that was based at WTTV Channel 4 in
Indianapolis. I got a signed publicity photo of him sitting on his horse. I remember he had those long sideburns that were popular back then and somewhat resembled Glenn Campbell.

Around that same time I also got Burt Ward’s autograph. He was the actor who played Robin on the Batman & Robin TV series that aired from 1966-68. A local car dealership had asked him to make an appearance to help them drum up business and my parents took me to see him. I got one of those classic Hollywood publicity photos with Ward in his Robin costume climbing a building. He signed it “Pow, Mike!” with a little smiley face added.

Because we were living on an Air Force Base I had a couple of other opportunities to get autographs. Once we went to see a performance by the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s precision flying team and afterwards I got several of the team members to autograph my program.
My Dad also took me to see a couple of Apollo astronauts once and I got their autographs as well – Al Warden and Dave Scott.

My autograph collecting kind of dropped off for awhile after my Dad left the Air Force and we moved back to Texas. When I was in high school I went to see Alabama perform at Southwest Texas State University and afterwards I stood in line and got all four of them to autograph a nice color publicity photo. I also got Janie Fricke’s autograph. She was the opening act for them at the time though I doubt many people remember her today.

My senior year I got to go to Gen Con, the big national gaming convention in Wisconsin, with my friend Jimmy. I got several artists and game designers to sign my program while I was there – most significantly E. Gary Gygax the creator of the popular fantasy role playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

In college I had all kinds of fresh opportunities to collect autographs. In 1984 I went to hear former Sen. George McGovern speak and got his autograph afterwards. He was actually running for president that year. I felt a little strange asking for his autograph since I was planning to vote for Reagan, but I was impressed that he was a historical figure.

A few years later, after I had become a Democrat, I went to hear another U.S. Senator who was running for president. His name was Al Gore and he had flown into College Station to give Greg Laughlin a boost in this congressional campaign. I got Gore to sign a slip of paper for me.

Possibly the most significant autograph in my collection was one I came across quite by accident. While living in Connecticut I went to a library book sale in a nearby small town and bought a copy of Lyndon Johnson’s autobiography “The Vantage Point.” As I was walking out I opened the book and saw a piece of paper slip out. It was a bookmark that had been stuck down inside the book where you couldn’t see it and it said “Signed by the author.” I thought “surely not.” But sure enough I flipped to the title page and there was LBJ’s autograph. Wow.

I picked up an autographed copy of Congressman Barney Frank’s book “Speaking Frankly” at Half Price Bookstore.

I got former Texas Land Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro to autography his book “Beaches, Bureaucrats and Big Oil”

I have two books signed by Molly Ivins, my favorite liberal columnist – Her first one, “Molly Ivins Can’t Do That, Can She?” which I got through mail order while living in Connecticut, and her latest “Bushwhacked,” which I got her to autograph in person here in San Antonio.

When I was in Kerrville working for the Daily Times I got to cover a Memorial Day ceremony at the Admiral Chester Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg. They got the actors Eddie Albert and Cliff Robertson, both WWII vets, to come out and support the museum and I got both of them to sign a program.

I have a number of music CDs signed by artists from the Kerrville Folk Festival – most notably Tish Hinojosa and Robert Earle Keen.

I have several paintings signed by my favorite Texas artist Dalhart Windberg.

Last year I got to see Luis Tiant, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher, while he was doing a promotional gig at a San Antonio Missions baseball game. I got him to sign a baseball card and my book “The Long Ball” about the ’75 World Series which he played a key role in.

And my wife has an autograph from James Watson of Watson & Crick fame, the pair who discovered DNA. She saw him while she was at Cold Springs Harbor on Long Island where his lab is located.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

History Lesson

George W. Bush now has four more years to wreak havoc, I mean govern the nation and combined with the Republican gains in the House and Senate there have been predictions of sweeping reforms of government programs - everything from overhauling the tax code to make it simpler and more regressive to privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

When Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992 the Democrats had a 55-45 majority control of the Senate - identical to what the Republcans have today. The Democrats also had a 258 to 176 majority in the U.S. House - an 83 seat advantage compared to the (231-201) 30-seat Republican advantage today.
So did Republicans meekly concede that the election had given Clinton a broad mandate to put forth his agenda? Or did they fight Clinton every step of the way?

You might recall that President Clinton had some grandiose ideas about reforming our health care system that fell flat despite his party’s control of both the House and Senate. That’s because they didn’t have total control then any more than Republicans have total control now. Republicans ramped up their use of filibusters when Clinton took office and managed to block a large number of his initiatives. It was the beginning of the gridlock era.

According to a 1995 survey published in the Brookings Review, there was an average of one filibuster per Congress in the 1950s, eleven per Congress in the 1970s, and nineteen per Congress in the 1980s. The 1991-92 Congress, the last one counted in the survey, saw a total of thirty-five filibusters.

Here is a graph that illustrates how much filibuster usage increased at the start of Clinton’s first term. By 1994, TIME Magazine was reporting that the country was “living through a filibuster epidemic.”

Well, you can expect Democrats to return the favor. So don’t expect to see any radical conservative agendas being fulfilled by this administration. They don’t have the numbers or the support to do the things they are talking about. Fortunately for them, our expectations on what governments can accomplish have been greatly diminished since Republicans have assumed power.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I'm melting, melting. Ohhhhh, what a world, what a world..

Global warming is back in the news today in a big way. One of the most comprehensive studies ever done has just been released and the results are bad news, especially if you live along a coastline.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists say changes in the earth's climate from human influences are occurring particularly intensely in the Arctic region, evidenced by widespread melting of glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising permafrost temperatures.
A study released Monday said the annual average amount of sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by about 8 percent in the past 30 years, resulting in the loss of 386,100 square miles of sea ice - an area bigger than Texas and Arizona combined....

Did you catch that? An area bigger than Texas gone in 30 years.

...Pointing to the report as a clear signal that global warming is real, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Monday the "dire consequences" of warming in the Arctic underscore the need for their proposal to require U.S. cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. President Bush has rejected that approach.

So what approach does Bush not object to? I couldn’t find it in any of the wire stories I saw, but the Express-News conveniently inserted this paragraph into their version in what I guess was some editors attempt at “balance.”

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Bush administration is spending $10 billion yearly on research into climate change and related issues.
“The president’s strategy on climate change is quite detailed,” he said.

Quite detailed, he says, without offering any details. But $10 billion annually on climate research!!?? I find that kind of hard to believe. But since this quote is only in the E-N version of the story and is not on their web site I’m having trouble verifying it. Still, I find it rather outrageous that a 4-year comprehensive study comes out and the Bush administration’s response is to say that we are going to spend more money conducting more research before we do anything about it. I guess they will just keep repeating their studies over and over again until they get a result that they like.

And here is more good news from Reuters:

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Global warming is melting the Arctic ice faster than expected, and the world's oceans could rise by about a meter (3 feet) by 2100, swamping homes from Bangladesh to Florida, the head of a study said on Tuesday.
Robert Corell, chairman of the eight-nation Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), also told a news conference there were some hints of greater willingness by the United States, the world's top polluter, to take firmer action to slow climate change.

No wonder most of the coastal states voted for Kerry! Oh, and that hint of greater willingness by the “world’s top polluter” was a reference to the McCain-Lieberman legislation that Bush opposes. So much for that.

Purple blob - Election 2004

Election 2004
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
Here is one of the best maps yet that depicts the 2004 election turnout. This illustrates how it was a close race better than those misleading county or state maps with the winner-take-all red versus blue makeup.

Here we have shades of purple to represent percentages of turnout in different areas plus the map has been morphed to give a better representation of population density.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The elitist position

Michael Kinsley has an excellent column this week that addresses this charge that those of us on the left are arrogant and elitist.

There's just one little request I have. If it's not too much trouble, of course. Call me profoundly misguided if you want. Call me immoral if you must. But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?

I mean, look at it this way. (If you don't mind, that is.) It's true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose and where gay relationships have civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values — as deplorable as I'm sure they are — don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?

We on my side of the great divide don't, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don't claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Computer glitch

These are the kinds of stories that make me paranoid.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said.

How many other electronic voting machines might have had similar troubles in Ohio and elsewhere? Could this explain the discrepancy between the exit polls and the final results? Probably not, but it is not reassuring news in such a close election.

What Moral Values would those be?

The new conventional wisdowm is that Bush won re-election on the strength of conservative Christians who said that "moral values" was their number one issue in the campaign. Moral values in this context is simply code for anti-abortion and anti-gay rights.
I'll leave the anti-abortion issue aside for now as it will come up soon enough when Bush starts appointing Supreme Court justices. But the gay rights issue - specifically gay marriage - has to be one of the silliest things on which to base a vote for president.

First off, if a gay couple wants to get married they can do so and there is nothing that the government can do to stop them. That is because "marriage" is done by the church and if they can find a church that will marry them they have every right to do so. The real issue is whether or not the government should recognize these types of marriages as legally binding.
If a religious conservative is opposed to gay marriage they can join a church that refuses to marry gay couples. Beyond that it really should not concern them for it is not any of their business. But that is not good enough for these people. They want to take it a step further and have their church's anti-gay marriage doctrine written into the law so that it is forced on everyone regardless of whether they are members of that particular church or not.

The frustrating thing here is that a majority of people seem willing to allow something called "gay unions" which would grant gay couples similar legal rights as married couples so long as they don't use the term "marriage." What is frustrating is that gays should jump at this opportunity because that is really all they need. As I have said, they can call it what they want once they get the legal rights established. So don't insist that the government use the term marriage because that just seems to rile up the fundamentalist opposition.

What irritates me the most however is this idea that being opposed to gay marriage is somehow upholding traditional moral values. How is that a moral value to tell two people who love one another that they cannot live together in a monagamous relationship? It would seem to me that the conservative position should be to encourage gay marriage as an alternative to gay promiscuity.
Of course, I don't buy into the argument that homosexuality is entirely a matter of choice and thus a sin. I believe that there is a biological element to it which means that (gasp!) God might have had something to do with it. There has always been a certain small percentage of the human population that is gay since the beginning of time. Maybe it is a way of controlling overpopulation in the species. But whatever it is I think this idea that it is a sin is wrongheaded and mistreating gays for something that they have little or no control over is unChristian. I don't care what verse out of the Bible you think forms the basis of an anti-gay doctrine. The Bible is a great book that was in most cases written by people who were inspired by God, but it is not infallible. If you believe that it is then explain to me how we can have a passage in Leviticus that advises men who suspect their wives of infidelity to force them to eat poison - if they become ill and die they were innocent, if they survive then they were guilty and the man can then divorce them.

My moral values are largely based on the Bible, particularly the New Testatment and the teachings of Christ. But they don't include bashing gays and judging people as sinners based on who they fall in love with.

The Obstructionist Party

So the Democrats are down 55-45 in the new Senate (44 plus Independent James Jeffords). Does that mean they will be marginalized and ineffective? Not at all. In fact that is a pretty good sized minority by historical standards and it is more than enough to block the really bad legislation that will be cropping up.
For lessons in being obstructionist, the Democrats need only look to the other side of the aisle at the party that was in the minority for years and made obstructionism into a fine art. Why one of the greatest obstructionists of our time was Republican Jesse Helms or Sen. No, as he was called.
From the time the Senate was expanded to 100 members in 1959 the Republicans were in the minority for more than 20 years, usually with far fewer numbers than what the Democrats have now.

So don't be surprised when Bush fails to get his grandiose plans to screw-up, I mean reform, the tax code and Social Security through Congress. Then again, I expect to see initiatives in these areas about the same time that Bush gets that manned mission to Mars off the ground.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?

In his victory speech the other day President Bush made some conciliatory remarks about the need to reach out to those who had voted for his opponent and to bring the country together. This is all fine and good, but he then went on to describe his second term plans in language that was clearly meant to signal to his supporters that everything is full steam ahead for their radical right agenda. At least, that is how I heard it.
Here is the part of the speech that caught my attention with my initial reactions in parenthesis:

"Because we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope. We'll
continue our economic progress. (Cough! Cough!) We'll reform our outdated
tax code. (More tax cuts for the rich!!) We'll strengthen the Social
Security for the next generation. (Privatization! Get ready to roll the dice
on your retirement income.) We'll make public schools all they can be.
(Standardized test factories for poor kids who can't afford to go to real
schools!) And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith." (Outlaw
abortion! Bash Gays! Teach creationism in the schools!)

Okay, so maybe I wasn't in the most conciliatory mood when I was listening to the speech. But I don't believe for a second that Bush is seriously reaching out to anyone who is not willing to walk lockstep with him on every issue. He didn't do it when he was the popular vote loser, so why would he start now?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-election thoughts

Just a few thoughts on this miserably disappointing election.

First, surely by now everyone can agree that we should get rid of the antiquated electoral college. Without the electoral college there would have been no question that Bush won the election based on the popular vote. John Kerry has decided to concede, but if he had chosen instead to act like Bush did in 2000 he could have tied up the election for weeks with lawsuits and recount challenges in a handful of states.

As for the possibility of provisional ballots or a recount changing the outcome in Ohio or elsewhere, I’m doubtful that could happen. But even if it did I think Kerry would have had trouble establishing a legitimate claim to the presidency while being down in the popular vote. I would indeed be hypocritical if I were to think otherwise after making such an issue of Bush’s half-million popular vote loss in 2000. On the other hand, any Republican who so much as makes a peep about popular vote victories under such circumstances would be equally hypocritical.

I am not upset with John Kerry. I feel that he ran as good of a campaign as anybody could have. He came within a hair’s breadth of winning the election. But the popular vote totals was the biggest blow. I’m still flabbergasted that a bare majority of American voters think George W. Bush is the best person to lead the country, but there you have it.
Perhaps the only bright spot for Democrats in this election is that they won’t have to clean up the mess that Bush has made during the past four years. Unfortunately, it also means that the mess will just get bigger. The question remains as to how big of a mess the American people will tolerate before the pendulum finally starts to swing back the other direction.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

My voting experience

I cast my vote this morning and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The thought of standing in line for up to two hours with a fidgety 1-year-old had dissuaded my wife and I from trying to early vote last Friday when the lines were wrapped around the buildings. But this morning at my regular voting precinct we only had to stand in line for about 15 minutes. We had packed the diaper bag full of toys and an extra bottle just in case but didn’t have to get it out of the car.
I couldn’t find our current voter registration cards so I brought along the old ones which still have our current address. It turned out not to be a problem. There were a few people that had to be turned away because their precinct location had been changed at the last minute, but noone got too upset about it. I was surprised when our across-the-street neighbors turned up just as we were leaving and found out that they are in a different precint that votes at another location. We live on a dead-end street in a new subdivision and we are still divided up like that. Unbelievable.
The new touch-screen voting machines were pretty easy to use. But it is still a little disconcerting to just push a flashing button at the end and have the screen suddenly clear out and say “Thanks for voting.”
Well, it is no big secret who I voted for. Now I am ready for today to be over with. I hate not knowing how it all turns out.
I’ve been through seven presidential elections since I was old enough to be aware of what was going on. The biggest disappointment was in 1988 when I was so emotionally invested in the Dukakis campaign. The most pleasant surprise was 1992 when Clinton won the first time. I don’t even like to think about four years ago. So now we just wait and see....

Monday, November 01, 2004

More Kerry endorsements

I subscribe to two periodicals - The New Yorker, which leans left and The Economist, which leans right.

The New Yorker has never endorsed a presidential candidate before, but this year they are making an exception. They have a long and in-depth explanation for their endorsement of John Kerry which is an excellent read.

The British-based Economist has been mostly supportive of Bush throughout his term and even backed his war in Iraq long after his reasons for invading fell apart like a house of cards. But now they are reluctantly endorsing Kerry calling it a choice between incompetence and incoherence. They got the incompetence part right.

Meanwhile, Kerry has cleaned the floor with Bush in the race for newspaper endorsements winning both the overall count 208 to 169 and the circulation race by 20 million to 14 million.
Kerry has also won the endorsement of 43 papers that backed Bush in 2000, while 16 papers that chose Bush in 2000 have decided to make no endorsement this year. On the flip side, Bush has picked up only seven papers that were for Gore in 2000.

But of course the “liberal media” is going to endorse Kerry, you say. Not so. According to Editor & Publisher which has been compiling these endorsement lists for several decades, the papers have given an overall edge to the Republican candidate in every year except one of Bill Clinton’s races. So having John Kerry win the endorsement race by a 5-3 margin is highly unusual.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Osama's "gift"

The very idea that having Osama bin Laden pop up on a video four days before the election could be a good thing for President Bush is just Bizarre! But here you have Bush campaign officials calling it "a gift."
It would seem to me that having verification that Osama is still alive and doing well 3 1/2 years after 9-11 would be a reminder of Bush's utter failure to bring him to justice.

Some people are speculating that Osama is trying to influence the election with his sudden reappearance. They say that the video will scare people into voting for Bush and will also take attention away from Bush's major screwup with the missing explosives at Al-Qaqaa. I doubt that it will have a significant impact, but I don't doubt that Osama is hoping it will give Bush a boost. Why wouldn't he want the guy who can't catch him to be elected?

Imagine an evil version of the Roadrunner urging people to vote for Wile E. Coyote to continue being his chief nemesis.
There goes Wile E. Bush with his Acme WMD detector that leads him in the wrong direction and blows up in his face. Meanwhile Osama Roadrunner races off in the opposite direction. Beep! Beep!

No, we have to be smart if we are going to catch Osama. You don't do it by launching a poorly planned war against a country that had nothing to do with 9-11 and no al-Qaeda connections (at least before we turned the whole country into a giant al-Qaeda recruiting center).
Bush has led us down the wrong path and that is the main reason of many why he should not be elected president. If nothing else, Bush should have made capturing Osama his No. 1 priority after 9-11. He could have screwed everything else up - wrecked the economy, run up huge deficits, lost 2 million jobs, turned our allies against us, etc. - but as long as people thought he was hot on Osama's trail they would have stayed behind him and he would be winning this election hands down. But he dropped the ball in Afghanistan and then decided to play a different game altogether.

I had gotten to the point like many other people where I imagined and hoped that Osama had crawled into a cave somewhere and died. But unfortunately the new tape shows that not only is he still with us but he seems to be in pretty good shame. He doesn't look like someone who has been living in a cave all this time trying to avoid detection.
Perhaps that is because all of our military and intelligence resources have been redirected and stretched to the breaking point during this long snipe hunt in Iraq.

I suppose the rightwing reaction to this news is predictable, but I can't get over how bizarre it is. Imagine for a moment if Al Gore was president right now and the Osama tape pops up right before the election. The rightwingers would have been pulling their hair out by the fistful and shrieking at the top of their lungs about how Gore had failed to keep the country safe and needs to be removed from office immediately. Is there any doubt that would have been the reaction?

Friday, October 29, 2004

A poor excuse

Now we have conclusive proof that the missing explosives were still around when U.S. troops arrived at Al-Qaqaa.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Videotape shot by a Minnesota television crew traveling with U.S. troops in Iraq when they first opened the bunkers at the Al-Qaqaa munitions base nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein shows what appeared to be high explosives still in barrels and bearing the markings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But what I am still having trouble understanding is why it matters when the stuff disappeared. Maybe someone can help explain it to me. Let us say for arguments sake that Saddam had his troops move the explosives before the war started even though that theory has now been shot down. Why would that make the actions of this administration any better?

We know that the International Atomic Energy Agency says it repeatedly warned US to secure the Iraqi explosives. And we know that the administration now claims not to have known the explosives were missing before the new Iraqi government issued a statement just a month ago. If the Bush administration had been doing its job they would have made sure that a sufficient number of troops were ordered to go in and secure the Al-Qaqaa facility right away - but that didn’t happen.

Let me try an analogy here. Let’s say you are at a restaurant with a friend eating lunch. As you are walking out of the restaurant your friend turns to you and says he left his sunglasses (a nice pair of Ray-Bans) back in the booth. But he is in a big hurry to get back to work so you tell him to go on and you will get his sunglasses and give them to him later. But as you are walking back into the restaurant you meet some other friends and start chatting with them. Afterwards you absentmindedly leave the restaurant without ever checking the booth for the glasses. About a week goes by before you see your friend again and he asks about the glasses. You say “Oops, I never checked on them.” So you go back to the restaurant and sure enough the glasses are gone. Your friend starts to get upset, but you say “Hold on there, buddy! There is a good chance that someone might have taken the glasses before I would have had the chance to go back inside and get them. So it’s not my fault.”

Should your friend be happy with that explanation? Why should we be happy with the Bush administration’s explanation in this case?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Unusual Kerry endorsements

Here are some folks whose endorsement of John Kerry comes as a bit of a surprise:

Christopher Hitchens - the contrarian columnist for Slate and Vanity Fair who used to be a big-time lefty writing a column for The Nation for years and years before suddenly doing an about face and morphing into a hawkish neo-con during the Clinton years.

Mickey Kaus - another Slate columnist who has spent 90 percent of his time bashing first Al Gore and then John Kerry.

Jesse Ventura - the former governor of Minnesota and a political independent.

Angus King - the former governor of Maine and a political independent who endorsed Bush in 2000.

Daniel W. Drezner - a moderate conservative blogger and political science profesor at the University of Chicago who was a foreign policy advisor for the Bush - Cheney campaign in 2000.

Andrew Sullivan - The conservative blogger and one-time editor of The New Republic who consistently attacks Democrats.

John Eisenhower - the son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Media Bias, or the lack thereof

I’ve been in journalism now for about 15 years. During that time I’ve worked for papers in mostly liberal Connecticut (Shoreline Times) and mostly conservative Texas (Kerrville Daily Times, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). Based on my experience, which I acknowledge is not overly vast, I believe that most charges of media bias whether from the right or left are overblown.
I was politically active in college - working on local campaigns and writing letters to the editor - but when I took my first newspaper job I realized that aspect of my life would have to be put on hold. I wasn’t going to be as extreme as one reporter I met in Connecticut who said that he never voted in order to maintain his neutrality, but I also did not want anyone to be able to accuse me of introducing bias into my reporting.
Most of the reporters I have had the pleasure to know and work with have been fairly liberal in their politics with a few exceptions. But they generally weren’t as interested in politics as I was and didn’t keep up with it like I did. I could always rattle off the members of the House of Representatives (state or federal) the way most people could name the players on their favorite football team. So it didn’t take long for me to land the political beat at each newspaper I worked at. As the political reporter I was always very much aware that anything I wrote would be scrutinized by people looking to bolster their preconceived notions of media bias. So I always bent over backward to be as fair and accurate in every story I wrote.
I would occasionally run across people who were difficult to work with because of their perceptions of the media - liberals who didn’t trust somebody who worked at a “conservative” paper, or conservatives - religious right in particular - who didn’t trust any media period. But most of the people who I would call politically savvy were easy to work with and understood how the process works.

How it works:
Newspapers are businesses and they are in the game to make money. They make money by building up a large circulation base and then selling it to advertisers. The money they collect in subscription fees is just a small supplement to the overall budget which is supported by advertising. If they could sell newspapers that were filled with nothing but advertising they would do so in a heartbeat and fire all the reporters and editors who are considered non-revenue generating. But they can’t which is why reporters still have jobs.
Most newspapers have about 60 percent of their space filled with advertising (including classifieds) leaving about 30 to 40 percent for the news hole. A lot of this space is filled with regular features and columns they get from wire services leaving just a portion for local news copy. As a reporter you quickly realize that your role in life is to fill space and to do so on a daily or weekly basis. In the newspaper business it doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, the editor always wants to know “what have you done for me lately.”
Newspapers try to be perceived as being right square in the middle of where they see their community being in order to cast the widest net for building up circulation figures. They don’t want to go too far to the left or right for fear of losing subscribers and thus losing ad revenue.

Now some people will always see bias in the media because their views are more intense or extreme than what they see reflected in the paper. But the lack of a right-wing or left-wing slant on the news is not the same thing as liberal or conservative bias.
There will always be things in the newspaper that will irritate partisans on either side of an issue. I find things to gripe about all the time. But I also know that my views are not always in synch with the “mainstream” and because I know how the system works I am not surprised to see things I disagree with. That doesn’t mean that newspapers never make mistakes or go too far in trying to be “objective.” But broad condemnations of the media as being biased are generally overblown and ill informed.
But I also think that media criticisms such as that being done by my blogging buddy Alamo Commando are a good thing. I think it is healthy for the news media to be aware that they are being constantly scrutinized even if all the criticisms are not always fair. At least these folks are reading the newspaper every day and what more can you ask? The scariest thing for us newspaper folk are the people who never bother to read a paper. You know, like President Bush.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Patriotic dissent

There was a somewhat disturbing and distressing political story in the Express-News on Saturday. It was about a small uproar in the West Texas town of Mason that occurred after a grieving mother stood up at a memorial service for her son who was killed in Iraq and told the crowd that they should not vote for John Kerry or else her son’s death would be in vain.

I think it is incredibly sad that this mother would think that her son’s death might be in vain under any circumstances. As the story notes, the young soldier had told his mother shortly before his death that he was concerned that a victory for John Kerry would mean that U.S. troops would immediately be withdrawn from Iraq and he felt that they were doing good work and that the people there needed them. That is a truly noble and admirable sentiment and something that we can all take pride in to know that we have soldiers who are so committed to helping other people around the globe.

First, I think it is pretty clear that we are not going to be pulling out of Iraq anytime soon regardless of who wins the election. But secondly, the problem is that we did not go to Iraq on a humanitarian mission to help the Iraqi’s. There are dozens of countries where oppressed people would probably welcome our military coming in to overthrow a corrupt or oppressive regime and help them rebuild afterward. That is not the point of our military. We went to war because we were attacked and we were led to believe that Iraq was not only working with the people that attacked us but that they had stockpiles of WMDs that posed an immediate threat to our existence.
The fact that none of that has borne out is not a poor reflection on our soldiers. It does not demean their service or denigrate their loss. But it does bring into question the judgement of this administration which we now know had mixed intelligence but chose to emphasize only that which matched their predisposed ideological assumptions while ignoring the rest.

You do not have to continue to believe that Saddam was linked to 9-11 in order to support our troops and appreciate their service and sacrifices. However, some people obviously do believe this and they see anyone who questions those tenets of the invasion as being somehow unpatriotic and perhaps even treasonous. This is very much unfair.
I do not recall back in 1980 that supporters of Ronald Reagan were ever labeled unpatriotic because they were turning against President Carter during the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis. This argument that we can’t change horses in midstream is a poor excuse for electing a leader and sets a dangerous precedent for future presidents who would be tempted to launch a war to assure themselves a second term.

I believe a change of administration will help our situation in Iraq and will also restore accountability to a White House that has for too long been making poor decisions while shifting the blame and responsibility on to others.

The worst news yet?

This is truly awful. The gross incompetence of this administration seems to have no bounds.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 24 - The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.

The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.

So along with the priceless art work and museum treasures that were looted shortly after the invasion, we now find out that 380 tons of explosives also disappeared while the Bush team was preoccupied making sure the headquarters for Iraq's oil ministry was secured.

People have been wondering where the insurgents were getting all their armaments from. Now we know. Bush allows 380 tons of the stuff to be looted under his watch and then says "Bring 'em On!"

The Bush administration has managed to keep this bit of news underwraps for 18 months. Incredible! And they claim that Condi Rice didn't find out about it until just a month ago. Why does she still have a job? Why can't we have competent people in Washington instead of this? I don't even care what political party. John McCain would not have been this incompetent, I can assure you.


The Bush administration has no response to this shocking news. Absolutely none!
Here is all that they have had to say so far:

The Bush campaign dismissed Kerry's criticism but did not specifically address the issue of the missing explosives, the Associated Press reported.

"John Kerry has no vision for fighting and winning the war on terror, so he is basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

Pathetic. Really, truly pathetic.

There is no way they can defend this kind of massive incompetence, so their only answer is to try and ignore it and change the subject to attacking John Kerry just like they have done throughout the entire campaign.