The 10 best press release quotes of 2005.
Check out this page of MP3s of champion livestock auctioneers. It's like audio-oddity porn.
(via the most-excellent WFMU Blog.)
You may not hear from me for a while...you see, last night I opened my Christmas gift from B.
(In the meantime, check out this ridiculously detailed description of the Williamsburg Bridge's walkway, and this amazing timelapse film of the Panama Canal's Miraflores Locks, both by way of the grubbykid.)
For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to write a post about the NSA spying. But I find it hard to string words together -- I sputter with indignation and inchoate rage, that a supposed democratic government would have the brazen gall to behave in such a fashion.
I don't see how it can be legal, based on both the Constitution and the FISA of 1978. And the justifications given by Bush and the administration seem so painfully thin as to be transparent...and that's given them the most generous benefit of the doubt that I can. I'm forced to conclude that this is a power grab by the executive on an unheard-of scale. Checks and balances don't seem to exist anymore, and we are stuck in the maelstrom of a self-declared "war" that will never end. One that apparently justifies all sorts of lost freedoms, broken laws, and special authority for our "Commander-in-Chief." No matter if it rides roughshod over the very things that make us Americans.
There was an op-ed in the Miami Herald by Robert Steinback posted Monday that says what I want to say, far better than I can:
One wonders if Osama bin Laden didn't win after all. He ruined the America that existed on 9/11. But he had help.
If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.
Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat -- and expect America to be pleased by this -- I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.
If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas -- and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security -- I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.
If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy -- and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy -- I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.
That's no America I know, I would have argued. We're too strong, and we've been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.
What is there to say now?
All of these things have happened. And yet a large portion of this country appears more concerned that saying ''Happy Holidays'' could be a disguised attack on Christianity. . .
Bush would have us excuse his administration's excesses in deference to the ''war on terror'' -- a war, it should be pointed out, that can never end. Terrorism is a tactic, an eventuality, not an opposition army or rogue nation. If we caught every person guilty of a terrorist act, we still wouldn't know where tomorrow's first-time terrorist will strike. Fighting terrorism is a bit like fighting infection -- even when it's beaten, you must continue the fight or it will strike again.
Are we agreeing, then, to give the king unfettered privilege to defy the law forever? It's time for every member of Congress to weigh in: Do they believe the president is above the law, or bound by it?
Read the whole thing here.
And I don't understand how anyone that calls themselves an American -- no matter who they voted for, no matter what side of the aisle -- can fail to object to the ongoing rape of the Constitution and the constant stream of lies.
Shot last night, on my way home.
Incidentally, my company has offered me a car service (as of last night) to get me to or from work during the strike. When I called, the wait for a car was three hours...at least.
So I started walking. Fortunately, the "ASTORIA" sign I was carrying paid off, when after three blocks, a car honked and the driver asked "Where in Astoria you going?" He lived past Astoria, in College Point, so he drove me right to my door.
He said "I never saw no one walking with a sign like that before." I told him that at best, I'd get a ride, and at worst, I'd look dumb. (And I've done that before.)
I tried to give him money for gas, but he refused, saying "Why should you pay me to drive my normal way home? I didn't go out of my way for you." He did take $5, though, after I asked him to let me buy him a beer at least.
So, thanks, Mark in the Toyota Corolla!
So it looks like the strike will end soon. And I'm sure Roger Toussaint will claim victory over the MTA, because -- well, he's a pugnacious bully. But that pronouncement will ring just as hollow as his other claims. The TWU is really the loser here, and not least because of its fatally flawed PR strategy.
Labor unions in general have royally screwed up in terms of their approach to the public, historically choosing to declaim, hector, threaten, and make rah-rah speeches rather than actually communicate why their demands are reasonable extensions of their membership's interests. Most of their intended audience aren't affiliated with organized labor -- or even necessarily sympathetic to the cause -- and it's amazing that labor unions don't seem to have recognized that.
Case in point: breaking the law, shutting down the New York transit system, and subsequently pissing off seven million people (most of whom make, I'm sure, less than transit workers) in subfreezing weather the week before Christmas. The strike has already cost the city a billion dollars in lost economic activity...does this mean that in order to protect worker solidarity, we have to lay off or not pay those making the least?
In the contract negotiations, the union was being intransigent. The MTA was not. It's unrealistic to enter into negotiations and expect to get exactly what you want. Aside from this, the union won concessions from the MTA: they asked for wage increases, and the MTA offered them 3%-4%-3.5%. (Never mind that that's bigger than what most working-class workers can expect over the next three years.) The union wanted the retirement age to go lower, and the MTA changed their offered retirement age from 62 to the status-quo 55. The union asked for increased disaster and terrorism training, and the MTA has agreed. The union asked for another holiday for workers, and the MTA gave them Martin Luther King Day.
The union asked for concessions, the MTA granted them...and the union walked out anyway.
The TWU has failed to articulate any coherent rationale for going on a systemwide strike. It's an extreme step, and they should at least be able to justify their action. (Or inaction.) They should be able to make the case to transit riders and say why they should support the union. They should be able to say why they're walking a picket line, rather than doing their jobs. None of that happened...just bellyaching about "respect." If you perceive that you don't get sufficient respect and react to that perception with the most extreme, destructive measures, then there's a word for that. It's "tantrum", and if you throw one, you're using the tactics of a two-year-old in the candy aisle of the grocery store.
The union is advising its members to "hold your head high" as they return to work. They should hang their heads in shame that they are effectively forced to pay dues to such an infantile, selfish, and yes, thuggish group of extortionists.
Oh, and between you and me, Roger? Comparing yourself to Rosa Parks usually doesn't work when you're refusing to drive the damn buses in the first place.
Today, I walked (along with Val and Jon) to work. It's just over four miles from my apartment building to my office, via the Queensboro Bridge. It's a pretty easy walk, especially when you have company.
The Red Cross was present at the Manhattan end of the bridge, handing out coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies. (Actually, this was the second time I've benefited from the Red Cross's largesse; they gave me a cup of beef stew in 1988 after a tornado hit our house.)
Incidentally, the TWU should be ashamed that the Red Cross considers this a disaster.
More pictures from the walk here.
If you're concerned about those poor, exploited workers -- you know, those sorry devils making $45K+, who get to retire at 55 (and want to retire at 50), who don't have to pay into their health insurance at all, and who get guaranteed raises and pensions, then let me refer you to my earlier post.
(Left home two and a half hours early today, walked to the "carpool staging area" at Astoria Park, found it to be utterly deserted save for three Parks cops drinking coffee, walked about a mile down 21st Street, hailed a cab together with another person headed to Manhattan, drove around a traffic-choked Queenboro Plaza for half an hour in a search to find more people so we could comply with the four-to-a-car rule to enter Manhattan, picked up a couple more people, slithered across the bridge, was dropped off at 58th & Lex, walked eight crosstown blocks to work. Total mileage walked: about three. So far, so good.)
Oh, and Roger Toussaint can bite me.
I'm not dead yet. Just either crazy-busy (like now) or TypePad is acting up (like this past weekend.)
But I've got a few posts kicking around in the ol' gulliver: the weekend, the cuts in social services just voted through (Merry Christmas from the compassionate conservatives!), the New York Times, the criminality of photography, intelligent design, terrorist library books, the ongoing rape of the Constitution by Dear Leader. You know, the usual stuff.
Who would possibly want to piss off eight million people a week and a half before Christmas?
Oh. The Transit Workers Union in NYC, which is threatening to strike at 12:01am tonight unless their demands are met. This will inconvenience a lot of people if they do so, and I for one am not relishing the prospect of a 4-mile-plus trudge to work through the projects and over the bridge in the subfreezing air. (Nor is my girlfriend, who would have to do the aforementioned trudge through the projects at 4am.)
What do the union workers want? An eight-percent raise. Sounds reasonable, sure -- but heck, I'd love a guaranteed eight-percent raise each year. (Eight percent is more than the biggest raise I've ever gotten, but the average in my shop is closer to 3-5%...still pretty good.) A guaranteed three-percent raise each year sounds like money in the bank to me -- my company doesn't guarantee any raises whatsoever. (Incidentally, the CEO got a 50% raise two years ago.)
And how much do these poor downtrodden transit workers make? According to the CSM, between $45,000 and $62,000 a year. Plus full health benefits. And a pension. Again, cry me a freakin' river. When I moved to New York three and a half years ago, I made less than the low end of that range, and I seemed to manage fine with my outer-borough one-bedroom.
Oh, and I'd love to have a pension, too, especially when I reminisce about my 401(k) in the days before it spectacularly imploded due to the machinations and screwups of people making more than 150 times what I do. I'm gambling with my retirement every day...sure would be nice if I knew I was getting a pension that would guarantee me income, rather than the sick hope that I've managed to save enough...and that my mutual-fund managers and corporate leaders I'm betting on won't screw up, commit fraud, or decamp to Rio.
And do you know how many people in New York make less than $62K a year? (Um, most people I know.) Here's where their tactics seem ludicrous, however: do you know how many people in New York making less than $62K a year (or even less than $45K a year) take the subway every day? I'd have to say that the answer would be: Most of them. Why alienate them? This proposed transit strike -- which would be illegal, by the way, risking fines which will most likely be passed on to transit riders -- is nothing more than a raised middle finger from the union to all New Yorkers.
Stand clear of this, pal.
Maureen Dowd (who seems to oscillate in quality, veering between perceptive and facile) tackles the question of female network news anchors:
Will Americans ever trust a petite, pretty woman in jewel tones to deliver the news as much as they trusted tall men with dark suits and deep voices, like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw? Can high heels match the venerable trench coat?
The network news anchor career path is laden with the same sort of gender tripwires as the one for the presidency. Who do we want to lead us through a crisis?
"Does Mommy know best?" a longtime TV industry analyst mused. "If there's a gigantically frightening news event, people want to turn on the TV and see someone guiding them through it. Will they be comfortable with Elizabeth Vargas or even Katie Couric?"
No, I doubt they would be. But not for the reasons that Dowd posits. It's not that they're female. It's that they don't have the journalistic track record that should be required before you sit down in that particular seat. It's not a father figure, or even specifically a male anchor that viewers are looking for if there's a "gigantically frightening news event." It's someone who knows what they're talking about. Someone who knows how field reporting works and how a broadcast comes together. Someone who can assemble lots of separate bits of information, contextualize them, and cogently describe what's happening. In short, an experienced journalist.
Are there female journalists who'd do well in the anchor chair and exude the gravitas and sense of authority that Dowd is fretting over? Sure. What about Christiane Amanpour? Gwen Ifill? Shiulie Ghosh? Lesley Stahl? Barbara Walters (up until, oh, ten-fifteen years ago?) They're all richly qualified journalists.
But Katie Couric and Elizabeth Vargas just don't measure up, and that's why I don't think they'd be credible in a network news anchor role. Not because they're female, but because they don't have the track record. Elizabeth Vargas has done some good work, to be sure (including an Emmy for her excellent coverage of the Elian Gonzalez brouhaha), but not enough of it to qualify her for anchoring World News Tonight.
And Katie Couric? Don't get me started. If she had any credibility as a journalist once, she's certainly pissed it away now after years of anchoring the vapid Today. I'm sorry, but hard-hitting interviews with celebrity chefs and Amber Frey don't exactly mean that you can make sense of fast-breaking stories with a zillion moving parts. The network morning shows are vast, whorish wastelands of fluff, forced laughter, and barely disguised payola. When's the last time you saw news -- actual, serious news -- broken on a morning show?
It'll make Neil Cavuto scream to hear it (what won't?) but journalists should take some things seriously. Not necessarily themselves, but their mission. Anchors should be human, yes. (C'mon, Neil: CBS didn't exactly have Robo-Dan in the hot seat.) But they should be committed to delivering solid journalism, and if Katie Couric commits to that, it'll be nothing less than a complete 180.
The Macy's Parade incident last month should cement Couric's status. Not only did she and Matt Lauer robotically read sponsor-written scripts about why various corporations are wonderful (I saw precisely zero critical distance or news judgment in the parade broadcast. So why do you have titular journalists, who work for the network's news division, hosting the thing?), but Couric and Lauer misled the public. After the balloon hit the light pole, causing two people to be injured, NBC showed tape from last year of the same balloon successfully crossing the finish line, implying to the viewer that this was live (or at the very least, recently recorded) video from 2005. Journalism is about serving the public interest and the public's right to know. Subverting that, unwittingly or not, is a complete failure of journalism's promise to its consumers. If Matt and Katie didn't know what NBC was doing at the time, they should have. And if they didn't know what was going on at the time, they should certainly have spoken out loudly against it once they discovered what went on in their names.
But why would you do that, when you might get to interview Katie Holmes one day?
I know everyone's probably already seen it via BoingBoing et al., but Samorost 2, the sequel to one of the most mindblowingly gorgeous Flash games I've ever seen, has been released. (Chapter One is free, but ya gotta pay for Chapter Two...which seems worth it.)
So Gmail has added this new "Web Clips" feature, where RSS or Atom feeds appear in a tab above the inbox.
It's very cool, of course, but what really made me chuckle is that the default options seem tied to what folder you're in. My Inbox displays headlines from the IHT, ESPN, and CNN...but when I killed out some spam a few minutes ago, I noticed that the tab had changed to "Spam Breakfast Burritos Recipe" and "Ginger Spam Salad."
So long ago
Was it in a dream, was it just a dream?
I know, yes I know
Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me
Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
I thought I could hear
Somebody call out my name as it started to rain
Two spirits dancing so strange . .
Dream, dream away
Magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe
More I cannot say, what more can I say?
On a river of sound
Through the mirror go round, round
I thought I could feel
Music touching my soul, something warm, sudden cold
The spirit dance was unfolding
The cafeteria at work has one line that serves different international dishes each day. Yesterday's featured cuisine was Russian food. There was rice with dried fruit, and the predictable Beef Stroganoff, but I was bemused to note the presence of Chicken Kiev. (Shouldn't that be reserved for the Ukrainian cuisine day?)
There was also a big bowl -- think punchbowl size -- of Russian dressing, just sitting out there by itself next to a pile of black bread. No clue what we were supposed to do with it.
Didja realize that Dubya's younger brother Neil (late of the Silverado S&L and Asian sex romps) is touring Asia with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon? (Rev. Moon, of course, late of the calls for the extermination of gay people, not to mention being crowned as the Messiah in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. He also owns UPI, some Washington TV studios, and the fervently right-wing Washington Times.)
Neil and the Moonie-in-chief are apparently trying to raise money for a 51-mile, $200 billion "Peace King Tunnel" to connect the U.S. and Russia.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
As Todd Gitlin writes at TPMCafe, "Anyone else remember when the cavortings of Jimmy Carter's errant brother Billy with terrorist Moammar Qaddafi amounted to big news? New York Post, where are you? 'All Things Considered?' National Enquirer?"
Something makes me think that if this had been Billy Carter or Roger Clinton, there'd be a 50-megaton outrage bomb coming from the Republican Party. I guess in this instance, their silence equals assent.
(Props to John Gorenfeld, the foremost Moonie-watcher out there, for digging this up.)
So I had an authentically New York experience this weekend -- Chico and B. and I went to see a friend in an off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway play. How far off Broadway was it, you ask? Well, let me just state that it was performed in a health club. On the fourth floor of a Knipl-esque building in that nebulous netherneighborhood between the Garment District and the Flatiron. We took the institutional-blue elevator (that reminded me somehow of an old 1940s subway car at the Transit Museum), entered the health club, and were confronted with rows of folding chairs and theatrical flats set up in an open area near the Nautilus machines.
How was the play? Suffice to say that I've never seen a cute redhead dressed as the Easter Bunny (complete with little black dress and high-heeled boots) perform "Hail to the Chief" on the accordion before. (And, most likely, I never will again.) But it was good to see our friends, which were of course by far the best thing about the play.
The rest of the weekend was taken up with a few pints at our local (where Chico and I gave a pep talk to a French barfly who wanted to make a short film involving Parisian castles, the Pyramids, Mexican trees, and a ballerina from the Bolshoi), sitting around contentedly at home, and the cooking of a nice pasta dinner -- and, on Sunday, my first shot at almond roca, which turned out pretty well.