Monday, January 31, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Part 2 of "The Bloodhound and the Bug," and "The Fox and the Crow" (plus "Variations on the Theme")


Second of five parts -- here are part 1, part 3, part 4, and part 5

The Fox
and the Crow

(from Further Fables for Our Time)

A CROW, PERCHED IN A TREE with a piece of cheese in his beak, attracted the eye and nose of a fox. "If you can sing as prettily as you sit," said the fox, "then you are the prettiest singer within my scent and sight." The fox had read somewhere, and somewhere, and somewhere else, that praising the voice of a crow with a cheese in his beak would make him drop the cheese and sing. But this is not what happened to this particular crow in this particular case.

"They say you are sly and they say you are crazy," said the crow, having carefully removed the cheese from his beak with the claws of one foot, "but you must be nearsighted as well. Warblers wear gay hats and colored jackets and bright vests, and they are a dollar a hundred. I wear black and I am unique." He began nibbling the cheese, dropping not a single crumb.

"I am sure you are," said the fox, who was neither crazy nor nearsighted, but sly. "I recognize you, now that I look more closely, as the most famed and talented of all birds, and I fain would hear you tell about yourself, but I am hungry and must go."

"Tarry awhile," said the crow quickly, "and share my lunch with me." Whereupon he tossed the cunning fox the lion's share of the cheese, and began to tell about himself. "A ship that sails without a crow's nest sails to doom," he said. "Bars may come and bars may go, but crow bars last forever. I am the pioneer of flight, I am the map maker. Last, but never least, my flight is known to scientists and engineers, geometrists and scholars, as the shortest distance between two points. Any two points," he concluded arrogantly.

"Oh, every two points, I am sure," said the fox. "And thank you for the lion's share of what I know you could not spare." And with this he trotted away into the woods, his appetite appeased, leaving the hungry crow perched forlornly in the tree.

Moral: 'Twas true in Aesop's time, and La Fontaine's, and now, no one else can praise thee quite so well as thou.

Variations on the Theme


A FOX, ATTRACTED BY THE SCENT of something, followed his nose to a tree in which sat a crow with a piece of cheese in his beak. "Oh, cheese," said the fox scornfully. "That's for mice."

The crow removed the cheese with his talons and said, "You always hate the thing you cannot have, as, for instance, grapes."

"Grapes are for the birds," said the fox haughtily. "I am an epicure, a gourmet, and a gastronome."

The embarrassed crow, ashamed to be seen eating mouse food by a great specialist in the art of dining, hastily dropped the cheese. The fox caught it deftly, swallowed it with relish, said "Merci," politely, and trotted away.


A FOX HAD USED all his blandishments in vain, for he could not flatter the crow in the tree and make him drop the cheese he held in his beak. Suddenly, the crow tossed the cheese to the astonished fox. Just then the farmer, from whose kitchen the loot had been stolen, appeared, carrying a rifle, looking for the robber. The fox turned and ran for the woods. "There goes the guilty son of a vixen now!" cried the crow, who, in case you do not happen to know it, can see the glint of sunlight on a gun barrel at a greater distance than anybody.


THIS TIME THE FOX, who was determined not to be outfoxed by a crow, stood his ground and did not run when the farmer appeared, carrying a rifle and looking for the robber.

"The teeth marks in this cheese are mine," said the fox, "but the beak marks were made by the true culprit up there in the tree. I submit this cheese in evidence, as Exhibit A, and bid you and the criminal a very good day." Whereupon he lit a cigarette and strolled away.


IN THE GREAT AND ANCIENT TRADITION, the crow in the tree with the cheese in his beak began singing, and the cheese fell into the fox's lap. "You sing like a shovel," said the fox, with a grin, but the crow pretended not to hear and cried out, "Quick, give me back the cheese! Here comes the farmer with his rifle!"

"Why should I give you back the cheese?" the wily fox demanded.

"Because the farmer has a gun, and I can fly faster than you can run."

So the frightened fox tossed the cheese back to the crow, who ate it, and said, "Dearie me, my eyes are playing tricks on me -- or am I playing tricks on you? Which do you think?" But there was no reply, for the fox had slunk away into the woods.

TOMORROW NIGHT: Part 3 of "The Bloodhound and the Bug," and "The Lover and His Lass" (from Further Fables for Our Time)

Check out the series to date


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Could I just chime in here on Howie's post today about Darrell Issa's latest astonishing stunt?


There oughtta be a law about this, you'd figure. But then, hasn't our Darrell lived his life according to the precept, "You can't pin nuttin' on me, coppers"?

by Ken

Earlier today Howie called attention to a NYT report on an astonishing maneuver by the new chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, our old pal Darrell "If You Think Crime Doesn't Pay, You Must Be Doing It Wrong" Issa. (At the moment the handiest guide to his career skirting the law is Ryan Lizza's recent New Yorker poke-about). Our boy is trying to to is get his mitts on "the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, business executives, journalists and others who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years," a request that even the NYT's Eric Lipton called "extraordinary."

That's putting it mildly, it seems to me.

Just to be clear what our Darrell is doing, here's Eric Lipton laying it out:
Mr. Issa sent a letter on Tuesday asking 180 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Social Security Administration, for electronic files containing the names of people who requested the documents, the date of their requests and a description of information they sought. For those still pending after more than 45 days, he also asked for any communication between the requestor and the federal agency. The request covers the final three years of Bush administration and the first two years of President Obama’s.

“Our interest is not in the private citizens who make the requests,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Mr. Issa. “We are looking at government responses to these Freedom of Information requests and the only way to measure that is to tally all that information."

That's the official story. Our Darrell is so concerned with open government, we're asked to believe, so determined to put teeth in the Freedom of Information Act, that he simply must have all this information. It would be easy to assume that it's just a stunt to embarrass the Democratic administration (which of course is exactlyl what I assume it is), but remember, three of the five years' worth of data he's commandeered comes from the Bush regime, and surely in the time that the FOIA has been on the books, no administration has treated it with such casual and thoroughgoing contempt. But we really don't expect Issa's version of "oversight" to go there, do we?

Howie quoted intrepid watchdog Russ Baker -- wondering whether our Darrell is "The New Face of Big Brother?" -- saying, "If, indeed, Issa is just super concerned about openness in government, that’s fine. But it’s not clear that a member of Congress -- and a highly politicized, partisan one at that -- ought to be the one to receive such sensitive information." I don't think Russ actually meant this to come out quite the way it did. I don't think he really meant to say that an information heist like this if "fine" under any circumstances.

Even if, unbeknownst to anyone treading the planet, Darrell Issa has somehow turned into the most relentless crusader on our shores in quest of open government, he has no business asking for, let alone getting, this information. (And there really doesn't seem to be any ready legal way of preventing him from getting what he's asked for.) While you might think there would be some kind of law protecting the privacy of FOIA filers -- precisely from the possibility for abuse, which is pretty much our Darrell's middle name -- I assume Darrell's people have ascertained that there isn't any such law. Hasn't he lived his life according to the precept, "You can't pin nuttin' on me, coppers"?

Eric Lipton again:
Yearly, the federal government receives about 600,000 FOIA requests, as they are called, a vast majority from corporate executives seeking information on competitors that might do business with the government. A much smaller number comes from civil libertarians, private citizens, whistle-blowers or journalists seeking information on otherwise secret government operations.

Federal agencies typically keep logs of these requests, and some even post them on their Internet sites. But officials often remove the names of private citizens when releasing the logs to protect their privacy.

Ah, privacy. Right-wingers tend to be pretty obsessive about their own but pretty casual about other people's, especially people who don't toe the line of their political orthodoxies. Just think about all those whiners making FOIA requests, at the mercy of, well, Darrell Issa.

Ostensibly, the impetus for this fishing expedition (say, don't Republicans usually scream bloody murder about congressional committee "fishing expeditions"? oh wait, that's when there are Democrats in charge of the committees, though better not to mention layers upon layers of scum and stench they've been faced with wading through when they even gave it a shot) is a rising chorus of complaints, ironically mostly leftward-based, about slack FOIA compliance within the Obama administration. Somehow, this doesn't surprise me at all. It sounds like just another area in which the differences between this administration and its predecessor can be mighty hard to distinguish.

NYT reporter Lipton came up with an interesting case in point:
A staff member on Mr. Issa’s committee said the congressman’s interest in the documents issue was spurred by such complaints. John Verdi, a senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, whose FOIA requests last year to the Homeland Security Department were subjected to political review, said he welcomed Mr. Issa’s inquiry. Federal law allows information to be withheld only for specific legal reasons.

But Mr. Verdi was uncomfortable with the idea of any single government entity having a list of every person who has made a FOIA request. “This is data that could be used to track who the biggest gadfly is,” he said.

Ohmygosh, a Republican committee staffer caught blowing it out his butt! Hopelesser and hopelesser as Beltway Dems have become, they're still not absolutely indistinguishable from lockstep Republicans. The latter, it appears, can be distinguished by the characteristic that they will never under any circumstances tell the truth about any aspect of any situation. And nobody can make 'em.

And now a whole bunch of them control House committees and subcommittees which give them power to compel information from most anybody, via simple demand or even subpoena. (Just 'cause Democratic committee chairs couldn't get squat via subpoena doesn't mean the same will be true of GOP chairs.) For the final comic touch in this tragicomic farce, Eric Lipton returned to Issa spokescreep Kurt Bardella.
Mr. Bardella said the oversight committee frequently received important information, like mortgage documents or corporate records, and was able to review them without compromising anyone’s privacy. It could be hard to check, though. Congress excluded itself from the Freedom of Information Act.

Are we laughing yet?


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An Important Question-- Maybe An Existential Question-- For America: Can Issa Be Trusted?


I thought I'd follow up on yesterday's tweet (above) with a more detailed explanation. As we pointed out, it's worth being very suspicious about who exactly Rep. Darrell Issa is and how he-- a low grade car thief, gun-totin' thug and arsonist-for-profit-- wound up as the richest man in Congress. Right-wingers have been warning that Issa is a kind of Manchurian candidate for Arab terrorism. That may be a stretch... but that he's a danger to American democracy isn't, not by a long shot. This weekend Eric Lipton in the NY Times pointed to a development that shows why giving actual power to a deranged, irresponsible sociopath like Issa-- whether he's a conscious agent for our destruction or not-- is antithetical to a thriving democracy. Issa just took over the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and he's demanding "the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, business executives, journalists and others who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years."
[H]is extraordinary request worries some civil libertarians. It “just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking,” said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. “It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good.”

One of America's most intrepid and well-respected investigative reporters, Russ Baker, asks if Issa's mug is the new face of Big Brother. He calls Issa's demand "an ominous development that is likely to pass almost unnoticed" and warns that "it’s hard to accept that at face value, without at least considering the corporate interests that backed the GOP takeover in November, and Issa’s ascension to this powerful position."
The very short Times article doesn’t get into the extent to which Issa and his allies are indebted to corporations that have a strong interest in finding out about inquiries that could affect their interests. Like reporters nosing around into the military-industrial complex, or trying to find out about stalled prosecutions of egregious polluters.

If, indeed, Issa is just super concerned about openness in government, that’s fine. But it’s not clear that a member of Congress-- and a highly politicized, partisan one at that-- ought to be the one to receive such sensitive information.

Can Issa be trusted? Well, consider this New York Magazine summary of a New Yorker dig into Issa:
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has taken a long look into the often shady past of California congressman Darrell Issa, the House Oversight Committee chairman who intends to unleash a flurry of investigations on the Obama administration. Issa has, “among other things, been indicted for stealing a car, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and accused by former associates of burning down a building.” “Everyone has a past,” Issa tells Lizza. This is true. But not everyone has fired an employee by “plac[ing] a box on the table, and open[ing] it to reveal a gun.”

Is Baker being paranoid to think Issa could possibly put the interests of GOP corporate donors ahead of a value like, say, democracy? Absolutely not and the best source of all is... Darrell Issa himself. Last year, asked what he’d do if GOP took the House, he told 400 applauding party members and Republican donors during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge, "That will make all the difference in the world. I won't use it to have corporate America live in fear that we're going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing." And I'd guess Paul Krugman doesn't trust Issa much either. He ran this tangentially-related post this morning in the NY Times: Inquiry And Intimidation. I think he's talking about Issa here; the McCarthy line is a dead giveaway.
I haven’t seen this reported elsewhere-- but Republicans in Congress are planning to investigate the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, looking for evidence of corruption and wrongdoing.

It’s absurd, of course: a tiny commission with a small budget didn’t offer much scope for corruption.

But what this is really about is intimidation-- in much the same way that investigations of climate scientists are about intimidation.

What the GOP wants is to make people afraid even to do research that produces conclusions they don’t like. And they don’t stop at trying to undermine the research-- they go after the researchers personally. The goal is to create an environment in which analysts and academics are afraid to look into things like financial-industry malfeasance or climate change, for fear that some subcommittee will either dig up or invent dirt about their private lives.

McCarthy had nothing on these guys.

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Conservative Democrats Like Stephen Lynch Have No Clue Why People Decide To Vote For Democrats


You know the old saying, "If you stop lying, I'll stop calling you a liar"? Conservative Democrat Stephen Lynch (MA), who was primaried by labor activist Mac D'Alessandro, was whining yesterday that by exposing anti-family shills like himself to voters, it hurt the Democratic Party.
Clearing primaries for members and discouraging liberal groups from spending against incumbents should be a priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said. “It would definitely help, I think. You need to talk to those groups.”

Blue America endorsed D'Alessandro and supported his bid against Lynch, the most conservative Member of Congress from his state before Scott Brown was elected. A widely disliked anti-choice shithead who made a desultory attempt to win Kennedy's seat, Lynch was one of the only non-Blue Dog Democrats to oppose the healthcare bill.

Lynch, a fave of the same corrupt corporate interests who support Republicans, had a hefty war chest and beat D'Alessandro 41,941 (65%) to 22,663 (35%) and went on to overcome nearly nonexistent Republican support in November, beating Vernon Harrison 156,079 (68%) to 60,120 (26%). Yesterday he told The Hill that "liberal groups need to stay out of Democratic primaries if the party is going to retake the House majority," showing an incredible lack of understanding of what it means to be a Democrat.

In Lynchland, being a Democrat means very little: wearing a blue T-shirt, pushing along a non-ideological opportunistic career pathway and giving lip service to whatever looks like a winning issue in the district. He doesn't understand that people become Democrats because of a shared set of beliefs, because he doesn't share them.
“There was a lot of money spent against Democrats by Democrats. That contributed to the scale of our losses... I think if we had avoided that, we would have saved, maybe, six or eight more seats,” said Lynch. “I don’t think it would have stopped the overall result, but maybe six or eight seats” could have been held.

Clearing primaries for members and discouraging liberal groups from spending against incumbents should be a priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said. “It would definitely help, I think. You need to talk to those groups.”

The conservatives he singled out were all shitheads like himself who were strenuously opposed by Blue America. He seems particularly upset that Blue America helped defeat Alabama Blue Dog Bobby Bright, who voted more frequently with the GOP than any other Democrat in the House, including on virtually every important contentious bill. He also bitched about corporate shills Zack Space and Katrina Swett.

[T]he SEIU encouraged its members in Ohio’s 18th district to “skip-a-Space” on their ballots and not vote for Rep. Zack Space because of his opposition to healthcare reform. The two-term Democrat was subsequently defeated by Republican Bob Gibbs.

Liberal groups also targeted Alabama Democrat Bobby Bright because of his opposition to the healthcare reform bill. The group Blue America PAC spent almost $50,000 against Bright-- in the general election, according to records compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group.

And in New Hampshire, liberal groups helped Ann McLane Kuster defeat establishment-favorite Katrina Swett in a bruising 2nd District Democratic primary. Kuster went on to lose to Republican Charlie Bass in a tight vote.

No mention of the fact that the big-spending Lieberman ally Swett only took 9,310 votes in the primary, a pathetic 29%, after spending $2,310,360 and probably draining off enough money from Kuster to throw the general election to Republican Charlie Bass. Maybe he should ask conservative Democrats to stop interfering in Democratic primaries and run in the GOP ones instead.

This morning the DCCC started running ads against vulnerable Republican Members of Congress in 19 districts. With the exception of Thad McCotter (R-MI) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), all are held by freshmen.
These 19 districts are must-wins for them in two years, and all but two members on the list are freshman. Many of them, such as Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY.), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Joe Walsh (R-IL)-- were surprise wins in 2010 and sit in districts Pres. Obama won in 2008.

The majority of the ads focus on the GOP's plan to cut spending, saying that their member has "a plan to cut education and research by 40 percent that will cost hundreds-of-thousands of jobs and make America less competitive." But there are two noticeable exceptions to that standard script: Reps. David Rivera (R-FL) and. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

For the most part it isn't known who will be running against the 19 spotlighted in the ads. Tom Perriello will probably try to win back his seat against Robert Hurt in Virginia. Ditto for Ron Klein against Allen West in Florida and Steve Driehaus against Steve Chabot in Cincinnati. State Rep. Roger Goodman has already filed to run, (perhaps against Dave Reichert) in the Seattle 'burbs. Most Democrats are waiting to see how district boundaries are redrawn before making their decisions and it isn't clear which district Goodman will actually run in since Jay Inslee, in whose district he lives, is likely to run for governor.

Teabagger Ann Marie Buerkle was a surprise victor last November against moderate Democrat Dan Maffei. It came down to a 50/50 split and she took it by a few hundred votes with nearly 200,000 cast. Maffei won in Onondaga County (Syracuse), the biggest in the district, but his 72,323- 62,419 wasn't enough to take him over the finish line in the suburban and exurban parts of a district that Obama won in 2008 with 56% (and that both Gore and Kerry had won narrowly). Maffei has gone to work for some sleazy conservative Democratic think tank, Third Way, and will probably run again. Here's the text of the DCCC ad running today against Buerkle:
Here in Central New York the recession is still hitting hard, good job openings are really scarce. So it was good to hear President Obama’s plan to make the economy work for the middle class again. Invest in education to train our children for the jobs of the future, maintain America’s lead in technology with more research and development, and reduce the deficit with an overall budget freeze. That plan makes a lot of sense.

But Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle supports a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent. And her plan would cut science and technology research by 40 percent, too. Research and development is how we get the new products that create new jobs. How does cutting that help us compete with China and India? It doesn’t make sense.

We should tell Ann Marie Buerkle to work with President Obama to create jobs, instead of supporting a partisan plan that costs jobs.

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Healthcare Hypocrites


Healthcare hypocrite Sandy Adams (R-FL) opposes healthcare for our families, but she and her family get subsidized government healthcare from her husband's government-funded plan for judges.

The plush taxpayer-subsidized congressional healthcare plans kick in tomorrow, February 1. Anti-healthcare fanatic Andy Harris (R-MD) will finally be able to stop whining about not having government-funded healthcare for himself and his family. Harris has become the posterchild for the healthcare hypocrites who won election by demonizing healthcare and then insisting he get it for himself and his family. He's far from a minority. In fact, only 15 Republicans-- every single one of whom voted to repeal healthcare for regular Americans-- have turned down the congressional healthcare plans for themselves. It's ironic that Harris -- who defeated Blue Dog Frank Kratovil 55-41% (one of only 39 Democrats to have voted against the historic healthcare reform bill on November 7, 2009)-- hasn't done anything noteworthy since coming to Washington except whine about not getting his healthcare fast enough.

But like we've been saying, virtually all the Republicans are on the same page as Harris, even if most of them are being less promiscuous about flaunting it. Watch the video Think Progress made about one Republican congressman after another admitting their families will get healthcare while their constituents' families shouldn't. One, Ron Paul, admitted it "could be" hypocritical of the GOP Members of Congress to take healthcare after voting to repeal it for the country.

So Blue America got together with our friends at Daily Kos, the Americans for America PAC and Americans United For Change and did some radio ads that feed into polling data that shows Americans are opposed to congressmembers who voted for repeal taking government-subsidized healthcare for themselves.
Only 33% think they should accept the health care they get for being a member of Congress while 53% think they should decline it and 15% have no opinion... Republicans and independents-- who put these folks in office in the first place-- strongly think they should refuse their government-provided health care. GOP voters hold that sentiment by a 58/28 margin and Indies do 56/27.

Blue America decided to highlight two Members of Congress whose Democratic opponents we support, Sandy Adams in central Florida and Leonard Lance in central New Jersey. Adams wriggled out of it by turning her congressional healthcare down, but she signed up for the healthcare her husband-- a circuit court judge with the government plan-- gets! Nicholas Ruiz is the Blue America-endorsed candidate running in FL-24 against the wily Adams. He penned a guest post, "Republican Anorexia Economica," for us before we found out that Adams had wormed her way out of the hypocrisy conundrum. Our candidate in New Jersey's 7th District against Lance, Ed Potosnak, also did a guest post, "Healthcare Is For Members Only, Members Of Congress That Is." We did radio ads for both districts, and we have been raising money, along with Daily Kos, to run some.

But there are literally dozens of Republican healthcare hypocrites to choose from. Last week the Charlotte News Observer had another sad story about one, freshman teabagger Renee Ellmers, who is married to a wealthy doctor and now makes $174,000 a year but was whining that she had to take government-subsidized healthcare, despite campaigning against it and despite voting to repeal it for her constituents (some of whom may make less than $174,000 a year), because living in DC is just so damn expensive.
“Unfortunately, being here in Washington is very expensive,” said Ellmers. “Yes we do have a salary and we do have benefits. It costs a lot of money to be here. I've signed on to the private plan, just like so many in America are on. The benefit is available to me. People need to understand out there it costs a lot money to be here in Congress.”

If you'd like to offer suggestions about which Members deserve to have ads like these run in their districts, Daily Kos has a page for that. Every single Republican voted to repeal the bill, as did 3 slimy Blue Dog hypocrites, Dan Boren (OK), Mike McIntyre (NC) and Mike Ross (AR), each of whom takes government healthcare, of course. That actually makes them even worse than the 15 Republicans who voted against it and aren't taking it-- Cory Gardner (CO), Mike Kelly (PA), Joe Walsh (IL), Sandy Adams (FL), Robert Dold (IL), Chris Gibson (NY), Paul Gosar (AZ), Frank Guinta (NH), Nan Hayworth (NY), Bill Johnson (OH), David McKinley (WV), Rich Nugent (FL), Scott Rigell (VA), Bobby Schilling (IL) and Daniel Webster (FL).

Last week, Blue Arkansas showed how this plays out in a red state filled with conservative hypocrites in office.
Despite their calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act, only fourteen Republicans in Congress have been willing to give up their taxpayer funded health insurance. And guess what. You won’t find the names Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack, or Mike Ross for that matter on that list... There’s no excuse for politicians who want to take our health insurance away while living off the tax payer dole. If they want ours, give up their own. And that doesn’t just go for members of Congress, it goes for state politicians as well. After all, state legislators get a nice little health insurance packet, partially subsidised by you, me, and everyone else in Arkansas that puts money into the system. As such, we at Blue Arkansas are asking politicians like Rep. David Meeks and Rep. Denny Altes, the cosponsors of HB1053, the state version of ACA repeal, to give up their own tax payer funded health insurance. After all, if they’re going to ask us to sacrifice, shouldn’t they be doing the same?

No matter where you live, please consider voting for which healthcare hypocrites to target and consider helping out with the costs of running the radio spots. Here's the one we did for Leonard Lance in New Jersey:

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Part 1 of "The Bloodhound and the Bug," and "The Cat in the Lifeboat""


The Bloodhound and the Bug, part 1

First of five parts -- here are part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5

Tonight we launch a new round of Thurber fables, this time drawing from the later collection, Further Fables for Our Time (1956). -- Ken

The Cat
in the Lifeboat

(from Further Fables for Our Time)

A FELINE NAMED WlLLIAM got a job as copy cat on a daily paper and was surprised to learn that every other cat on the paper was named Tom, Dick, or Harry. He soon found out that he was the only cat named William in town. The fact of his singularity went to his head, and he began confusing it with distinction. It got so that whenever he saw or heard the name William, he thought it referred to him. His fantasies grew wilder and wilder, and he came to believe that he was the Will of Last Will and Testament, and the Willy of Willy Nilly, and the cat who put the cat in catnip. He finally became convinced that Cadillacs were Catillacs because of him.

William became so lost in his daydreams that he no longer heard the editor of the paper when he shouted, "Copy cat!" and he became not only a ne'er-do-well, but a ne'er-do-anything. "You're fired," the editor told him one morning when he showed up for dreams.

"God will provide," said William jauntily.

"God has his eye on the sparrow," said the editor.

"So've I," said William smugly.

William went to live with a cat-crazy woman who had nineteen other cats, but they could not stand William's egotism or the tall tales of his mythical exploits, honors, blue ribbons, silver cups, and medals, and so they all left the woman's house and went to live happily in huts and hovels. The cat-crazy woman changed her will and made William her sole heir, which seemed only natural to him, since he believed that all wills were drawn in his favor. "I am eight feet tall," William told her one day, and she smiled and said, "I should say you are, and I am going to take you on a trip around the world and show you off to everybody."

William and his mistress sailed one bitter March day on the S.S. Forlorna, which ran into heavy weather, high seas, and hurricane. At midnight the cargo shifted in the towering seas, the ship listed menacingly, SOS calls were frantically sent out, rockets were fired into the sky, and the officers began running up and down companionways and corridors shouting, "Abandon ship!" And then another shout arose, which seemed only natural to the egotistical cat. It was, his vain ears told him, the loud repetition of "William and children first!" Since William figured no lifeboat would be launched until he was safe and sound, he dressed leisurely, putting on white tie and tails, and then sauntered out on deck. He leaped lightly into a lifeboat that was being lowered, and found himself in the company of a little boy named Johnny Green and another little boy named Tommy Trout, and their mothers, and other children and their mothers. "Toss that cat overboard!" cried the sailor in charge of the lifeboat, and Johnny Green threw him overboard, but Tommy Trout pulled him back in.

"Let me have that tomcat," said the sailor, and he took William in his big right hand and threw him, like a long incompleted forward pass, about forty yards from the tossing lifeboat.

When William came to in the icy water, he had gone down for the twenty-fourth time, and had thus lost eight of his lives, so he only had one left. With his remaining life and strength he swam and swam until at last he reached the sullen shore of a sombre island inhabited by surly tigers, lions, and other great cats. As William lay drenched and panting on the shore, a jaguar and a lynx walked up to him and asked him who he was and where he came from. Alas, William's dreadful experience in the lifeboat and the sea had produced traumatic amnesia, and he could not remember who he was or where he came from.

"We'll call him Nobody," said the jaguar.

"Nobody from Nowhere," said the lynx.

And so William lived among the great cats on the island until he lost his ninth life in a barroom brawl with a young panther who had asked him what his name was and where he came from and got what he considered an uncivil answer.

The great cats buried William in an unmarked grave because, as the jaguar said, "What's the good of putting up a stone reading 'Here lies Nobody from Nowhere'?"

MORAL: O why should the spirit of mortal be proud, in this little voyage from swaddle to shroud?

TOMORROW NIGHT: Part 2 of "The Bloodhound and the Bug," and "The Fox and the Crow" (plus "Variations on the Theme," from Further Fables for Our Time)

Check out the series to date


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USA's "Fairly Legal" is off to a strong start. Plus: David Brent meets Michael Scott


This promo sets out the basic premise of USA's new series Fairly Legal, about Kate Reed, a lawyer turned mediator who is surrounded by lawyers: the stepmother she hates (who has taken over direction of their law firm from Kate's just-deceased father), her brother, and her ex-husband, an assistant district attorney. The show airs Thursdays at 10pm ET, following Royal Pains.

"I was an attorney for five years. I quit to become a mediator. You want to know why? In court, somebody wins, but there's always a loser, and it doesn't necessarily have to do with who's right and who's wrong."
-- Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), in the pilot of USA's Fairly Legal

by Ken

I'm afraid the above promo clip and the various others USA Network has prepared, while informative up to a point and accurate enough as far as they go, do much the same thing I'm about to do: make Fairly Legal seem more schematic and stereotyped than it actually plays, at least in the two episodes aired so far. (The fact that the website clips come freighted with 30-second "sponsored messages" may be reason enough to avoid them.) The premiere considerably exceeded my expectations, and the second episode went a long way toward cementing the show's hold on me.

For one thing, the main plot of the episode presented a provocative situation: A man convicted of robbery and murder at 18 is cleared after 22 years in prison. Kate, the mediator, is engaged by Justin (Michael Trucco), the assistant district attorney to whom she was married, to mediate a settlement between the state and the wrongly incarcerated man, Steve, played terrifically by Paul Schulze, known to some of us as Nurse Jackie's extramarital boyfriend Eddie. It's clear to everyone that Steve deserves compensation; the question is how much?

To Justin, it's clearcut. He wants the lowest-cost settlement the DA's office can get away with while also sparing his office the embarrassment of taking a wrongful-prosecution case to court. Kate, however, is horrified to find out, during the settlement conference, that Steve is so empty, at least outwardly, that she can't even find out from him what he wants, and she can't in good conscience settle the case without knowing what his story is. Eventually she gets him to open up, a little anyway.
STEVE: I had this dream. For 22 years I had this dream. That thing kept me alive. That I was exonerated. I was out. And then it happened. I got my dream. Except now I don't know what I want because everything I want is in the past. And the past is dead.
KATE: Before you were arrested, did you have an idea of what you thought your life would be like?
STEVE [shrugs]: Yeah.
KATE: Did it change? [He shakes his head.] Tell me about it.
STEVE: It's always late. Nighttime. [Pause.] I come home from a job that I don't really hate to a family that I really love. My son . . . wants to grow up to be a pro baseball player. My daughter is someone who I tell every day she's the prettiest girl in the room. And she is. And I have a wife who puts up with me, maybe even who loves me. And, uh, it's never gonna happen. Now, how . . . how do you put a price on that?

The show got at least me to think about what it means to have 22 of your 40 years taken away from you. Maybe I'm susceptible because I really am preoccupied by the whole question of how we use and misuse our time on earth, a question that's highlighted by this instance of someone who had those years taken away from him through no fault of his own.

I also tend to respond well to shows that treat their characters with basic respect. It's not hard to understand, for example, why Kate thinks of her stepmother, Lauren (Virginia Williams), as a monster, but at the same time the show makes clear that she isn't. Similarly, ex-husband Justin, far from being the pretty-boy stuffed shirt one might have expected, really believes in his job as a prosecutor: upholding the justice system in order to protect society from bad guys despite the considerable difficulties and obstacles. Kate, meanwhile, prizes actual justice above the orderliness of the justice system. This obviously puts them at odds over Steve's case.

Okay, it's a TV show, so it's hardly surprising that Kate and Justin (who turns out, when we see him shirtless, to be stuffing quite a lot in his shirt) are wildly hot, but both Sarah Shahi and Michael Trucco have a lot more going for them than their considerable physical attractiveness. Sensibly, the writing doesn't shy away from their sexual sizzle, acknowledging the attraction between the characters, which actually is far from just physical, while finding ways to make it clear why they're ex-spouses. Can't live without 'em, can't live with 'em, the way it happens so often happens in real life.

As usual with USA dramatic series there's a strong supporting cast, including Baron Vaughn as Kate's assistant, Leo, and Ethan Embry as Kate's brother, Spencer. Presumably Gerald McRaney will be back as the hard-assed judge who takes badly to Kate's disrespect for the law. And I've barely touched on the issues arising from the death of Kate's and Spencer's father, which shows signs of becoming steadily more rather than less complicated.

Gosh, I know the way I write about Fairly Legal makes it sound frightfully tedious, which again is a shame, because the show, created and produced by Michael Sardo, seems headed in promising directions, and confident about where it's going.


The opening scene of this week's episode of The Office

And an impromptu dialogue on the nature of comedy ensues. Left unanswered is the question of what the hell David is doing in Scranton. (Scranton???) He does seem eerily alert to even the humblest possible employment opportunities, though.

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We Should All Walk Like Egyptians


One of my closest friends produced The Bangles' #1 hit "Walk Like An Egyptian," but I couldn't resist posting the cover version above by actual Egyptians Hakim and Cleopatra. Most Americans didn't know much about Egypt beyond this song and maybe the pyramids and Elizabeth Taylor-- other than stuff-to-do-with-Israel. Even the Suez Canal doesn't seem all that important anymore. And Egyptian cuisine... oh God, the worst. Otherwise I'd go out and have an Egyptian meal tonight to celebrate the heroism of the Egyptian men and women of all ages and ideologies who have taken their lives in hand, and in some cases given up their lives, to stand up to tyranny. It's more than most people anywhere ever do. I could barely take my eyes off the English version of Al Jazeera (TimeWarner banned it from the California airwaves, so online) the last few days. Yes, this week we're all Egyptians, unless we watch Fox, in which case we're stupid shitheads with no brains who see al-Qaeda behind every bush.

Back to stuff-to-do-with-Israel. I listened live when Mohamed ElBaradei did his Al Jazeera interview from Cairo today. Here's a piece from YouTube:

Please listen. I don't want to transcribe it, except I do want to say how embarrassed I was when I felt his indignation-- indignation I shared-- when he was asked about the reaction to the uprising, in the form of statements, by the United States and other Western powers. "I'm not satisfied with these statements, which are preaching democracy and social justice. They have two options: to take the side of the people or the regime. We cannot have a middle ground here. These countries should recalculate their agendas. Change is coming, no doubt, and the Egyptian people will look at those countries from different perspectives according to their stances."

The interviewer then asks ElBaradei about what many in the West care about exclusively in regard to Egypt, not counting oil: Israel. Egypt is an ancient civilization with a population of 80,000,000 and a GDP of about half a trillion dollars; Israel, which was founded in 1948, has a population less than a tenth of that and a GDP of around $200 billion. ElBaradei's blood pressure must have gone into orbit.
This is a humiliation to the Egyptian people. It is the people who will decide their destiny. It is the Egyptian people who will hand down their own policies... The outside forces cannot decide the destiny of the people. It is us who will do so.

I hope the poor man isn't watching Fox-- or, for that matter, any American TV-- since one might get the impression that the rising up of tens of millions of Egyptians against a brutal and oppressive tyranny is somehow about Israel or even America. It's about neither, and if Obama backs torturer-in-chief Omar Suleiman to maintain the status quo by succeeding Mubarak, it will quickly turn into something about America, and in a very bad way.

A clueless and senile John McCain, always ready to make anything and everything about him spoke earlier today on CNN about how the Egyptian peoples' valiant struggle really just comes down to how we cannot afford a Tiananmen Square in Cairo. "It's fraught with danger... The longer this unrest the more likely the radicals see openings to take power. The Lenin scenario," continued the raving idiot who Arizona voters should have had the good sense to retire after he helped steal billions, Mubarak-style, in the Savings and Loan scandal.

You can probably imagine that we here at DWT are very excited for the Egyptians (and the Tunisians) for taking their fates into their own hands and ridding their countries of tyranny. But we aren't deluding ourselves into believing that the future of Egypt is now going to automatically be fabulous. Could it be worse than it is now? It could-- although I don't believe it will be, not for the hard-pressed Egyptian people. Right now they're probably far more democratically oriented than, say, the American teabaggers who overwhelmingly hate democracy. As author and Philadelphia journalist Will Bunch pointed out in his newest book, The Backlash, teabaggers are convinced that "the majority was no longer worthy of power in this great experiment of a democratic republic, since the majority was now 'the handout people' from up near Wilmington." We briefly looked at the context he was talking about last week when we discussed why teabaggers are certain Obama is not a legitimate president:
[The] urban nature of Obama's support was exactly the point that the Garcias and Russ Murphy were awkwardly trying to make. When Alex Garcia has finished his monologue [how McCain won more land] about the big states and the small states, you sheepishly note-- more of a question than a statement, really-- that Obama and his native-son running mate Joe Biden actually carried Delaware, did they not? (By a landslide margin of more than 100,000 votes in fact.)

"What it is," said Alex Garcia, "... is Wilmington."

"Wilmington!" chimes his wife, Theresa.

Wilmington, with 72,826 people, an hour north of your diner booth, is the largest city in Delaware by far-- capital of the American credit-card industry and also plagued by more violent criminal enterprises, a crowded world apart from the marshy spaces of lower Delaware. The city of Wilmington is roughly 10 percent Latino and about 35 percent black; in 2008, Obama carried New Castle County-- Wilmington and the surrounding suburbs-- by a two-to-one margin while McCain narrowly won the rest of the state, including small towns that his running-mate Sarah Palin once called "the pro-America parts of the country."


"They get a lot of influence from New Jersey and New York because a lot of the New York and New Jersey people live in Wilmington, and that's a big influence," Alex is saying, "and they're really into the welfare state-- it's a handout area up there. When you start coming down below the [Delaware] Canal into Kent County and Sussex County, it's a totally different way they voted."

A long silence settles in over the table. Plates clink. Toddlers babble in the background, as soft rock descends from a speaker overhead. The big platters of spaghetti and meatloaf arrive, and the once talkative Murphy is bent over his mound of pasta, handing off to the Garcias the task of further explaining McCain's glorious 2008 victory.

But, you finally stutter, should votes from Wilmington actually count less?

"There's more of them," Theresa says.

"It's population," adds Alex.

"They're in the big cities," says Theresa. "That's what the problem is."

So are you saying that voters from Wilmington aren't the real America?

"They represent the welfare America, the handout America-- what do they call it, the nanny state, everybody is taken care of," explains Alex. "When you get into the big areas like that, everybody is expecting their free handout... You have a lot more of the... how would I put it... a lot more of the welfare recipients, stuff like that."

There is a famous and somewhat apocryphal anecdote about the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael saying from her liberal bastion in Manhattan that Richard Nixon could not have won the 1972 election because every single person she knew voted for George McGovern. Here is the flip side: that looking out on the "pro-America" horizon from the Kirby & Holloway, it is impossible to imagine that someone like Barack Hussein Obama could have won a presidential election-- or even that he is a United States citizen. These things are the pillars of a shared faith.

...Their uprising was something the likes of which America had never seen before-- whiter, older, and more affluent, yet angrier than anyone could have expected, whipsawed into rebellion not by the hormonally raised expectations of youth but instead by a nonstop sedentary couch-potato bombardment of unfiltered fear.

Egypt's revolution is a real one, and a broader one. All segments of the Egyptian population other than regimistas are part of it, or at least praying for it. Revolutions are dicey things, and often eat their own children but if I had to say who I trust more, the teabaggers or the Egyptian people, it's a no-brainer.

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Sunday Classics: Concluding our walking tour through Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"


Why don't we begin at the very end? We launched last week's Pictures preview with Esa-Pekka Salonen (whom we'd last heard conducting Stravinsky's Firebird) and the Philharmonia Orchestra opening the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures, so it seems only right to have them bring the piece to this stirring conclusion with "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" and "The Great Gate of Kiev" (the best thing I've ever heard Salonen do, I have to say) from that 2006 Proms performance.

by Ken

If there's one lesson I take away from the time we've spent with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, last week (preview and main post) and this (starting with last night's preview), it's that performers of these vividly imagined miniatures need to be operating at a comparable level of awareness and imagination, whether they're tackling the original piano version or Ravel's or anyone else's orchestral version. Esa-Pekka Salonen's performance of the concluding "Hut on Fowl's Legs" and "Great Gate at Kiev" in the clip above is a splendid demonstration. This is by no means the only way to do the music, but the choices are all fully imagined and executed. I doubt that anyone who hears this performance is going to forget the music anytime soon.

I'm not sure there's much more to say of an introductory nature. We're continuing with the game plan aid out last week: walking through Mussorgsky's musical rendering of pictures from the posthumous of work by his friend Viktor Hartmann -- in the composer's piano version and, among the many orchestral versions that have been attempted, the most-often-encountered one, by the composer Maurice Ravel, and the one by master orchestral colorist Leopold Stokowski.

From last night's Part 2 preview, we've heard how today's half-Pictures begins (with No. 6, "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle" movement) and ends (with the rousing No. 10, "The Great Gate of Kiev"). In a moment we'll fill in the missing three (really four) pictures. Note that this week we're proceeding from picture to picture without benefit of those "promenades" Mussorgsky inserted between most of the earlier pictures. Note that there actually is one more Promenade, between No. 6 and No. 7, "Limoges -- The Marketplace," which Ravel omitted and many pianists do as well. Our Pictures companion William Kapell included it, however, and we'll hear it in place in his performance below. When we get to that point in our walk-through, we're going to have pianist Michel Béroff play it for us.

Before we resume out promenade through the exhibition, since we heard the start of Vladimir Horowitz's extravagant rendering of Pictures last week, I thought it would be fun to hear him bring it to a close with "The Hut with Fowl Legs" and "The Great Gate at Kiev."



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How I Became Rich The First Time-- And Why The Big Airlines Are All Failing Miserably


On my first day of college-- actually freshman orientation, so even before my first day-- all I wanted was to find someone who would sell me some pot. (This was 1965, so it wasn't as readily available as it has been subsequently.) The beat-types and "heads" were a little closed to rambunctious freshmen wanting to score dope, but I noticed that the student-body president had long hair, and in those days the only males with long hair were drug fiends-- or so I thought. He was the only person with long hair who didn't smoke pot, but it took forever before I figured that out.

Anyway, I approached him after his address to the freshman class. He was eager to find someone with a left-wing perspective to run for freshman class president. I was willing to make believe I knew what a left-wing perspective was if I could get some pot. He helped me understand the major issues of the day-- from the little thing brewin' up in Vietnam to the stuff Martin Luther King was doing down South-- and he turned me on to rock music, especially the Stones and the Doors, and helped me become freshman-class president, which totally radicalized me. But no pot.

Ironically, when I finally did score some pot, the student-body president popped up as I was lighting up, and was quasi-aghast. It was so hard to get and so expensive, like $65 an ounce-- and what a paranoid hassle. Eventually I met a real NYC dealer who agreed to sell me awesome California weed for $120 a pound. There are 16 ounces in a pound-- so that was less than $8 an ounce. Even if you're not a math major, you know that $8 is a way better deal than $65, right? So what do I do?

My grandfather was a Russian democratic-socialist, so... I organized a cooperative in which we would take turns going to the city (90 minutes by train) and scoring and dividing it up. Each of us would pay $10 an ounce, so the guy who did the work that week would get his free. Everyone loved the idea. I went first. It worked great. But no one wanted to go second. Or third.

So I said I'd do it, but I decided to charge $25 an ounce, a lot better than $65 but still very profitable for moi, although most of the profits went up, so to say, in smoke. In any case, it was just a matter of time before I was the biggest drug dealer in Suffolk County. I learned a lot about business, something that served me well as I eventually started my own business and then ran a corporate one.

Next month I'm going to Mexico for a little vacation. The country's tourism is in the toilet and hotel occupancy rates are way down. Hotels can approach this from a number of directions, none of them ideal from a business perspective. One is to figure that if they can get a customer and charge as much as possible, maybe they can make up for the lack of quantity. Another is to give the customer a great deal in the hope that (a) you'll get some business and (b) others will hear about it and come to your hotel instead of the one charging a lot.

The hotel we picked has suites with a rack rate of $950 a night, very high. But the hotel management isn't high, so they offer a "discount": $700 a night. I'm not high either, and I'm not shy, and was willing to point out that $700 may have been a discount in 2006 but let's be real here, José-- business sucks, and you're going to have another empty suite for another week. So we're paying less than $200 a night. Many people are doing this all over Mexico.

Most major airlines have been dealing with the global downturn in other ways. For starters, service has gotten frighteningly bad. In fact, it's at the point that the service is so bad that it kind of makes you want to look for an alternative to taking the trip. David Koenig did a piece about it for A.P. a few days ago.
After a decade of multibillion-dollar losses, U.S. airlines appear to be on course to prosper for years to come for a simple reason: They are flying less.

By grounding planes and eliminating flights, airlines have cut costs and pushed fares higher. As the global economy rebounds, travel demand is rising and planes are as full as they've been in years.

Profit margins at big airlines are the highest in at least a decade, according to the government. The eight largest U.S. airlines are forecast to earn more than $5 billion this year and $5.6 billion in 2012.

U.S. airlines are in the midst of reporting fourth-quarter results that should cap the industry's first moneymaking year since 2007.

"The industry is in the best position-- certainly in a decade-- to post profitability," says Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. "The industry is much better prepared today than it was a decade ago."

The airlines' turnaround has benefited investors-- the Arca airlines stock index has nearly quadrupled since March 2009-- but it's been tough on travelers.

Fares in the U.S. have risen 14 percent from a year ago, according to travel consultant Bob Harrell. Flights are more crowded than they've been in decades. On domestic flights, fewer than one in five seats are empty. Space is even tighter over the summer and holidays. That's why it took a week to rebook all the travelers who were stranded by a snowstorm that hit the Northeast over Christmas weekend.

Travelers also face fees these days for services that used to be part of the ticket price, such as checking luggage (usually $25 to $35 per bag) and rebooking on a different flight (usually $150 for a domestic flight, more when flying overseas).

"I'm not averse to anyone making money-- that's great-- but (to) take things away and then charge for them, that's not right," said Rick Jellow, an executive who travels in his job for a lighting-systems company in Virginia.

From 2000 through 2009, U.S. airlines lost about $60 billion and eliminated 160,000 jobs, according to an industry trade group, the Air Transport Association.

During that tumultuous decade, airlines were hit with a series of events beyond their control: two recessions; the Sept. 11 attacks; an avian flu outbreak that scared away many travelers, and rising fuel costs.

The industry was profitable in 2000, 2006 and 2007, when the economy was roaring. But those boom years masked the industry's underlying problems, including high costs and more seats than travelers demanded. During 2008 and 2009, airlines lost a combined $23 billion, but they were also attacking their problems, setting the stage for a comeback in 2010.

• They eliminated money-losing flights. When travel demand recovered, airlines could raise ticket prices for the smaller supply of seats.

• They grounded older, gas-guzzling airplanes. The government says the major U.S. airlines, plus freight delivery companies FedEx and UPS, used 11.39 billion gallons of jet fuel in the first nine months of 2010, down 11.4 percent from the same period a year earlier. The price of a gallon of jet fuel jumped 20 percent year over year, but overall fuel spending rose just 6 percent.

• They added fees. In the first nine months of 2010, airlines collected more than $4.3 billion from fees for checking baggage and changing tickets, up 13.5 percent from the comparable period in 2009.

• They consolidated. Delta Air Lines Inc. bought Northwest in 2008, and United and Continental combined last year. That leaves four so-called network carriers that operate from hub airports, down from six. And Southwest Airlines Co.'s pending purchase of AirTran Airways will combine two of the biggest discount carriers. Fewer airlines should mean higher fares.

Delta, Southwest, United Continental and US Airways are expected to have earned nearly $4 billion combined in 2010. The latter two report results on Wednesday. The parent of American Airlines, which suffers from higher costs than the others, said last week it lost $389 million.

The economy is expected to grow faster in 2011 and 2012 than it did in 2010, and this should give the industry a lift. But, there are some challenges on the horizon.

The biggest, is higher fuel prices. With oil hovering around $90 a barrel, jet fuel on the spot market costs about $2.60 a gallon, the highest it's been in more than two years. This will temper industrywide profit margins. Still, Soleil Securities analyst James Higgins says most airlines would make money this year even if oil hits $100.

Another factor that will determine how long the industry's profitability lasts is how individual airlines manage growth. Rightly, the airlines so far have been cautious about adding more flights as travel demand picks up. In the past, they added flights and brought back grounded aircraft too quickly. That led to a glut of seats and falling airfares.

"The wild card is always capacity discipline," says William Swelbar, a director at Hawaiian Airlines' parent and an airline industry researcher at MIT. "All it takes is one carrier to begin to add capacity aggressively, and then we follow and we undo all the good work that's been done."

Yes, capacity discipline... it's always been what makes the capitalist world go round. I know there are some very inexpensive rooms available in Cairo right now. But I bet you can't get a cheap flight.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Preparing to conclude our walk-through of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"


Here's how it all turns out in the Emerson, Lake & Palmer rendering.

by Ken

Last week we began our walking tour through Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the suite of miniature pieces the composer imagined for solo piano depicting an exhibition of "pictures" by his late friend, the architect and artist Viktor Hartmann.

Since we pick up with "picture" No. 6, a musical amalgamation of Hartmann pencil drawings of two Polish Jews, I thought that for our preview we would start there and jump to the final "picture," the magisterial "Great Gate of Kiev." Here, by the way, is how "The Great Gate" sounds in a suitably grand performance of the Ravel orchestral version, with Stuart Stratford conducting the London Philharmonic, from a "FUNharmonic Family Concert" in London's Royal Festival Hall, February 2008.



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So General Amos, the commandant of the Marines, knows how to honor his uniform after all


Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine commandant, and Carlton W. Kent, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, deliver to their fellow marines a confident, unequivocal, and determined commitment to enforcement of DADT repeal, including an upbeat exhortation to "respect the rights of all who wear this uniform."

by Ken

General Amos took a lot of heat, and deservedly so, for his publicly expressed skepticism that the Marines could safely implement DADT repeal, rather flagrantly stepping outside the military chain of command. I thought he should have been fired on the spot, and I still think he would have deserved it.

But I'm here to give him credit for taking this initiative to prepare the corps for the new era where mutual respect is to take the place of lawful bigotry. I don't see how he and Sergeant Major Kent could have made a stronger or more affirmative presentation to their fellow marines. There's no reason why sexual preference should in any way compromise military discipline, as we already know from the experience of countries that have taken this step, and discovered that it was really no big deal at all. Of course people who want there to be trouble have the power to make trouble; as both General Amos and the Sergeant Major Kent stress, the key to making sure that doesn't happen is leadership at all levels, and they've set a stirring example here.

For those of us who worried about problems in DADT-repeal implementation arising from equivocation and foot-dragging in the Marines, it's especially gratifying to see the USMC on the contrary taking the lead in upholding the new (however long overdue) law of the land.

Immediate winners: the many gay men and lesbian women already serving proudly in the Marines, who can look forward to a new era in which their service is finally fully respected, by their country and by their peers. It's good for the morale of the corps and good for the country's miiitary preparedness. The only losers are the bigots and haters, and they deserve to lose.


and also to show that the U.S. military establishment is already capable of doing it once the bureaucratic wheels are properly aligned, here's a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, with emphasis added but, it seems to me, no further comment required:
Gay Marine’s husband surprised at respect shown by Naval Academy

Neil Steinberg Jan 29, 2011 11:03AM

John Fliszar had a heart attack in 2006 and was rushed to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

“When I was in the emergency room with him, he asked me to promise him, if he died, to make sure his ashes were interred in the Naval Academy,” said Mark Ketterson. “He loved that place. He very much wanted to be there.”

Fliszar, a Marine aviator who served two tours in Vietnam, survived that heart attack. But last July the Albany Park resident suffered another one that killed him at age 61.

Hoping to fulfill Fliszar’s wishes, Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and told them that Fliszar, Class of ’71, had wanted to have his ashes interred at the USNA’s Columbarium, a serene white marble waterside crypt next to the school’s cemetery.

The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.

“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”

He was and they did, the couple having been married in Des Moines when gay marriage became legal in Iowa two years ago.

Ketterson sent a copy of the marriage license. That changed everything.

“I was respected,” he said. “From that moment on, I was next of kin. They were amazing.”

The USNA alumni association sent Ketterson a letter expressing condolence for the loss of his husband.

The USNA says Fliszar’s interment followed standard operating procedure.

“His next of kin was treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to the next of kin of all USNA grads who desire interment at the Columbarium,” said Jennifer Erickson, a spokesperson for the academy. “We didn’t do anything differently.”

Shipmate magazine, the publication of the USNA’s alumni association, ran Fliszar’s obituary. It noted his two Purple Hearts for “having been shot down from the sky twice in military missions.” It noted “for the rest of his life he would joke about his ‘government issued ankle.’ ” It noted “his burly but warmly gentle manner.” It noted he was “survived by his husband, Mark Thomas Ketterson.”

“The word ‘husband’ in the obituary has created a bit of a stir,” said Ketterson, a Chicago social worker. “I’ve heard from a number of officers. It’s been amazing. This has not been absolutely confirmed, but I think I’m the first legal same-sex spouse who planned a memorial.”

The memorial service was held in October, in “the beautiful, beautiful Naval Academy chapel,” said Ketterson. A uniformed officer stood in the back and played taps.

“They did the standard military funeral, a wonderful service,” said Ketterson. “Since I was the designated next of kin, they were going to present the flag to me, but I deferred to his mom. She gave it to me.”

One of the groups Ketterson heard from afterward was USNA-Out, the organization for gay graduates of the Naval Academy.

“From my perspective, attitudes and actions are changing at the Naval Academy and certainly at the alumni association,” said Brian Bender, chair of USNA-Out, observing that while he “can’t speak for the Navy as a whole, we do interact with active-duty Navy folks, and they check in with their chain of command.”

I tried to find someone who could speak for the Navy as a whole, but with whatever era replaces “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ still in its infancy, well, let’s say that Navy communications specialists are not jostling each other for the chance to address this subject.

While the public generally approved of the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ in the U.S. military, the details still need to be worked out. The thorny issue isn’t ending the costly and counterproductive practice of forcing gays out of military services -- that cost $40 million a year to enforce and deprived the armed services of thousands of qualified personnel. A bigger challenge is the question of entitlements: Who is a survivor? Who gets military benefits?

A marriage certificate was the key that let the USNA know how to treat Ketterson in relation to his husband’s service. Gays in the military and gay marriage are thought of as separate issues, but without legal gay marriage, or at least civil unions, how can the military know who gets the folded flag?

Such practical concerns were far from Ketterson’s mind when he and Fliszar got married after dating for six years — “because I loved him and he asked me,” Ketterson said, adding that the USNA alumni he’s heard from have made grieving more bearable.

“It’s been some months. I’m still doing mourning,” Ketterson said. “As a gay man who grew up in a military family, getting communications from USNA, having heard from alumni who say, ‘You will always be one of us’ — that’s powerful, and healing.”

“One of the e-mails said that I was a ‘trailblazer,’ ’’ said Ketterson. “I didn’t blaze any trail. I buried my husband.”

That said, he still finds himself marveling at how it all unfolded.

“I am a patriotic American, but I know this is not a perfect world,” he said. “The point is, when the chips are down, when the issue was patriotism and honor for a veteran, they were wonderful. Whatever their private feelings, they made me proud to be an American. We really do get it right sometimes.”

"We really do get it right sometimes." Yes, indeed.

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Florida Republicans Lining Up To Try To Replace David Rivera As More Corruption Charges Unfold


Florida elected a lot of new Republican congressmen in November, almost all of them off-the-chart teabaggers. But David Rivera from the southern tip of the state is unlike most of the others. A political opportunist with no genuine ideological lodestar to guide him, Rivera has been all over the map politically-- and can best be described as a career hack politician, a very corrupt one in fact.

Like all the Republicans in the House, last week Rivera voted to repeal healthcare reform for his own hard-pressed constituents. But unlike Florida newcomers Rich Nugent, Daniel Webster and Sandy Adams-- all of whom, like Rivera, had campaigned on repealing healthcare-- Rivera opted to keep government-subsidized healthcare for himself. The others turned it down. It's the kind of politician Rivera is, and has always been.
Fifty-three percent of voters in a survey from Public Policy Polling said lawmakers who ran against the reforms should stay true to their rhetoric and refuse government coverage. Among Republican voters in the survey, that figure jumped to 58 percent.

The survey is just the latest indication that lawmakers who ran in opposition to the healthcare law might find themselves in a pickle as the reforms kick in and lawmakers are forced to buy their health insurance from state-based exchanges.

Last week we mentioned how some of Rivera's corruption was starting to catch up and overwhelm him, despite cooperation from a politically ambitious Democratic State Attorney, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, to help him whitewash the latest charges. Before we come back to why the whitewash is failing, let's take a quick look at why someone of Rivera's caliber is in office in the first place.

In 2008, the 25th CD, specifically gerrymandered to provide a safe base for Cuban Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, started looking shaky. George W. Bush's healthy majorities in 2000 (55%) and 2004 (56%) were reduced to a near-miss for McCain (50%). As for Diaz-Balart, he saw a 2006 midterm sweep of 58% turn into a too-close-for-comfort 53% in 2008. Diaz-Balart drew 130,891 voters to Joe Garcia's 115,820. When Diaz-Balart's older brother Lincoln decided to concentrate his energy on becoming the next president of Cuba, giving up his House seat, Mario decided to grab his brother's more safely red seat and leave his own to the fates. Joe Garcia jumped into the race again, and so did one of Miami-Dade's sleaziest and most corrupt state legislators, Rubio crony Rivera.

Angry Florida voters stayed away from the polls in droves, especially Democrats who had invested so many hopes, and were so disappointed, in Obama. The economy in South Florida is a shambles, and Obama's careful conservatism has been a pale shadow of what his 2008 base had hoped for. Garcia suffered. Of his 115,820 voters two years before, only 60,123 bothered showing up. Rivera didn't inspire much more confidence. Only 74,386 of Diaz-Balart's 130,891 2008 voters showed up to vote for him. It was enough to drag him over the finish line, though.

It's been all downhill since then, with one scandal after another hitting the headlines of the local papers. And this week A.P. was on the case with what many feel will be the coup de grâce for a career-- even by Florida's shockingly low standards-- to be out of control.
Freshman U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who is facing a state criminal investigation of his finances, paid himself more than $60,000 in unexplained campaign reimbursements over the eight years he served in the state legislature, an Associated Press examination of his records shows.

Serving as his own campaign treasurer, the Miami Republican didn't report any details for more than a third of the roughly $160,000 in expenses for which he reimbursed himself, other than simply calling them campaign expenses, according to the records.

The AP review also shows his total reimbursements far exceeded those claimed by 12 other top Florida state legislators who served with him. Those lawmakers-- both Democrats and Republicans-- usually gave at least some explanation of how the money had been spent, as required by Florida law. Rivera denies wrongdoing.

This kind of blatant corruption is completely consistent with an m.o. Rivera has developed over the years. Like many corrupt politicians he treats political contributions as a personal piggy bank, but unlike most of them, he doesn't even deign to cover his corruption up. If someone donates money to his campaign, they might as well be paying his personal bills for his homes, cars, meals, hookers, whatever.

Congressional Republican leaders are embarrassed by Rivera's behavior, or at least by his sloppiness in getting caught. When Boehner, whom no one would call an angel, or even a stickler, when it comes to ethics, was asked about the exploding corruption case Wednesday, all he could say was: "As I understand the allegations against Mr. Rivera, they don't involve any of his congressional service. These are activities that took place before he was elected. And I think we are waiting to see how this plays out."

Back in Florida, Republican leaders are starting to panic. There are whispers than even in Miami-Dade, voters can only be pushed so far before realizing they're being lied to and manipulated. Some Republican political leaders in Florida are "urging him to explain his finances while others are already talking of potential GOP successors to replace him... [A] prominent Republican attorney in Miami called for Rivera to fully explain himself or 'step down.'''
In a letter to the Miami Herald, Thomas Spencer, who is active in Miami-Dade and state Republican politics, said Rivera needs to "fully and completely, without delay or obfuscation, disgorge and fully explain every single relevant fact and document-- or he needs to step down.

"Litigation will only erode the reputation of our community in the United States House of Representatives and impugn the good name of our Congressional delegation-- all of whom have brought pride for their service to their districts,'' said Spencer, who was a co-counsel for former President George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount.

Spencer, who said he has talked to a number of other Republicans, said he plans to call on top Republicans to ask Rivera to release more details about the investigation. "It's time for us to step up to the bat and put pressure on him to get him to fork over every single document,'' he said Friday.

...At the heart of the probe is Millennium Marketing, a company owned by Rivera's mother and godmother that received $510,000 from the Flagler Dog Track as part of a deal for Rivera to lead a pro-slots political campaign on behalf of the parimutuel.

Rivera, who had long denied receiving any money from the dog track, earlier this month admitted to receiving $132,000 in undisclosed loans from Millennium-- loans Rivera says he has since repaid.

Also under investigators' microscope: Rivera's campaign expenses, including $30,000 he paid to Millennium for consulting in 2006, and $75,000 he paid last year to a now-defunct consulting company owned by the daughter of a longtime aide. Rivera has denied any wrongdoing.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Rivera paid himself nearly $60,000 in unexplained campaign reimbursements over the eight years he served in the state Legislature.

House Republicans, furious with the allegations, said there's talk of a list of Republicans who could run for a special election if Rivera is forced to resign.

Former state Sen. Alex Villalobos said he has been asked about running for the seat, but that he isn't interested. He wouldn't say who approached him.

"David did it to himself,'' Villalobos said of the chatter about recruiting candidates. He noted that "everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty,'' but added that what party leaders have to decide is if Rivera is still electable.

"The question is whether or not he's damaged enough that he can adequately represent that district,'' Villalobos said.

Former state Rep. J.C. Planas said he and others are considering a challenge.

"Obviously I think we can do better as a community,'' said Planas, an attorney who left office because of term limits.

"Nobody is entitled to their seat,'' he added. "If for some reason somebody is to tarnish that privilege, it is anybody's right to say they can do better.''

Newly elected teabag Senator Marco Rubio, who once shared a party house in Tallahassee with Marco Rubio, with whom he was widely known to be closest friends-- as thick as thieves, in fact-- when confronted with the charges against Rivera, basically said, David who? The most support he could muster for a man who knows where all the bodies are buried was, "I have confidence in our judicial process.''

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