Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Not even reality TV

"Up until today, it was my impression that all of our viewers understood that these shows are works of fiction, as is stated in each episode. But I do congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a TV show."

- "Law and Order" series creator DICK WOLF responded, no doubt, referring to the fact that DeLay has been under the gun for alleged ethics issues involving overseas travel, his dealings with lobbyists and fundraising.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Smashing the middle class

It amazes me how so many of my middle class friends and family identify as Republicans, and think scalawags like George Bush are on their side. They fall for the idea that the party run by big business and the corporate elite are looking out for their interests. Hah! Two glaring examples prove them wrong, though they refuse to see. They're like sheep being led to slaughter:

First, there's the recent "bankruptcy reform." It was practically written by the lobbyists for big financial institutions like Chase. You know, those dear people who issue your credit cards. This new legislation makes it nearly impossible to escape the bondage that results when companies like MBNA suddenly hike your interest rates from 4% to 24.99%. I've heard of cases where they do this even though people have met their obligations faithfully. You'll be working your asses off for the rest of your lives just to pay them back if this happens to you. Notice the law sets no limit on how much they can charge you. Any legislators looking out for the middle class would have been sure to put a cap on their usury.

The other example is the Alternative Minimum Tax. Because it isn't indexed to inflation, many middle class people are increasingly being caught up in this net of bondage. While Bushco's wealthy contributors are celebrating their tax cuts by buying yachts and third and fourth homes, those in the middle class struggle to pay more. An article in today's Inquirer points out how the AMT can wipe out deductions for medical costs, mortgage interest and more. It also suggests the government has no interest in reforming this back-door tax. How can it? Bushco's deficits are now approaching 400 billion dollars, and he needs to make Ken Lay's tax cuts permanent.

My Republican friends rationalize that those tax cuts stimulate the economy and create jobs for us all. Yeah, right: jobs in fast-food franchises while the corporations offshore everything else.

Still, all of this can't be laid at the feet of Bushco. They couldn't get by with it unless they had the complicity of "Republicrats" on the other side of the aisle like Evan Bayh.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The nuns are all right by me

As someone who endured twelve years of Catholic school, I have a rather conflicted relationship with nuns. My first memories of them are as stern taskmistresses who would rap your knuckles with a ruler for the slightest infraction. Most of the ones who taught me didn't seem to like boys very much. As a result, after my graduation from elementary school, I thought I didn't like nuns very much.

But after Vatican II, many nuns changed. Most of them lightened up and started shedding the restrictive habits in favor of more comfortable dress. But the best thing they did was adopt social activism as a cause. Now they really and truly live the gospel of Jesus Christ as they advocate for the poor and oppressed. My friend Gail sent me an example of this, the following resolution from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:

LCWR National Assembly
August 20-25, 2003, Detroit, MI
Statement on Iraq

"We, the members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, decry the continuing tragic loss of life in Iraq. We mourn the deaths of Iraqi children, women and men, military personnel and civilians of all countries involved in the ongoing conflict, as well as those who lost their lives in the recent attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. We also grieve the devastating impact on a beautiful land and ancient culture.

"As women of faith and Christian principle, we recognize that there are numerous contributing causes to the climate of violence which continues in Iraq. The use of armed force by the United States in a pre-emptive strike has invited violent response and civil unrest. The lack of post-war planning and the massive destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure and social order raise grave questions of moral responsibility. We challenge ourselves and all people of good will to seek conscientious, just and nonviolent solutions to our world's problems. We further call upon the government of the United States to cooperate with the United Nations to secure peace and a hope-filled future for the people of Iraq.

"From our life of faith and service, we have learned that peace is not achieved through physical force. Peace prevails where peace has been learned, met, experienced, modeled. We invoke God's call as presented to us in the Book of Deuteronomy: "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." (Deut. 30:19)

Adopted by more than 900 LCWR members representing 76,000 Roman Catholic sisters in the United States.

So while the pious new Republican Catholics zealously support Mr. Bush in his spree of death and horror, the sisters who once taught them catechism now aspire to teach them something more important: real respect for human life. I wish the sisters luck.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Questioning, um, questionable sources

So the Bushies are rubbing their hands together in glee that they got Newsweek to retract the story about flushing the Koran down the toilet. They're all crowing about how the magazine used questionable sources in reporting the story.

Never mind the questionable sources the administation cited when they took us off to our adventure in Iraq. Nobody's responsible for that, I guess. And while we're on the subject of Iraq, how the hell can the people who orchestrated that mess go on with their daily lives? How can they look each other in the eye, or the rest of us for that matter? Everyone can see clearly that it's a total debacle.

As for the impact of the Koran story on American standing in the Arab world, what about Abu Ghraib? I'm sure Arabs are thankful Lynndie didn't flush Korans down the toilet while she was humiliating naked prisoners.

Meanwhile, a breath of fresh air from Animal, by Ani DiFranco:

ask any eco-system
harm here is harm there
and there and there
and aggression begets aggression
it's a very simple lesson
that long preceded any king of heaven
and there's this brutal imperial power
that my passport says i represent
but it will never represent where my heart lives
only vaguely where it went

cuz i know when you grow up surrounded
by willful ignorance
you learn that mercy has its own country
and that it's round and borderless
and then you just grow wings
and rise above it all
like there
where that hawk is circling
above that strip mall

Monday, May 16, 2005

What our guys do

Remember Barak Obama? He was very popular around the time of the Democratic convention, and he gave a sitrring speech about there being no "red" or "blue" America. Everybody talked about him as a rising star in the Democratic party.

Awhile back I blogged about a craven example of administration hypocrisy, making wounded soldiers pay for their own meals during their visits to Walter Reed Army Hospital. Barak has taken them on.

According to today's edition of Salon, "On Wednesday, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Illinois Democrat Barack Obama that will pay for them. It got added to an $82 billion emergency spending bill full of war money that President Bush is about to sign. The amendment applies to all military hospitals, not just Walter Reed."

Score one for the good guys.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Liberal guilt and hate mail

One day I saw a bumpter sticker that said, "Envison No Democrats."

It has always amazed me that for many years my hometown newspaper the Indianapolis Star has carried regular columns by Dan Carpenter. His views are so divergent from the rigidly conservative newspaper with its connections to such Indiana luminaries as Dan Quayle. His views are unabashedly liberal. They're my views, almost 100% of the time.

Dan and I go way back. We were in the same class at Cathedral High School, and he was even the valedictorian or salutorian at our graduation. (I can't remember which, but I'm sure he can.) During the years I lived in Chicago and San Francisco my mom would send me columns of Dan's and reading them would make me proud. "A voice of reason in the wilderness," I thought.

When we moved back to Indianapolis in 1992, we rented a house that turned out to be just up the street from Dan and his family. In fact, his wife Mary was the one who found the house around the corner we soon bought. They were our neighbors for twelve years, and you'd see them and their kids regularly walking the tree-lined streets of Butler-Tarkington.

Whenever I'd see Dan, I thought about what it must be like to be someone so utterly reviled by the large know-nothing element of the Indiana population. I'd read one of his columns and wince, imagining the hate mail he was sure to receive for it.

Yesterday he wrote a column about just that. I could feel the pain of this caring and thoughtful man. The beginning contains these words:

"As a professional complainer, I will be asked by readers from time to time to time why I am so angry, so unhappy and so hateful toward America. From this we can infer any of several things:

• The reader thinks I expect America to be perfect.

• The reader thinks America is perfect.

• The reader sees at least some of the faults that I mention but does not become angry or unhappy about them.

• The reader defines "America" as the current government."

He goes on to discuss the sources of liberal guilt, and those readers who accuse him of being anti-American because he takes exception to the excesses of the likes of George Bush:

"In obvious ways, assent and obedience are a lot more healthful than anger and unhappiness. Life is awfully short, after all, even if you're not in any danger of dying—from disease for lack of basic medical care, from bombs for residing under the wrong flag or from bullets for growing up on the wrong street. Why make their problems your problems, especially when it's so easy to convince yourself that their problems are their fault?"

You go, Dan!

You can read the full column, "Seeing Red with White and Blue" at www.indystar.com in the Opinions section.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I love my Wawa

Only if you live in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia or Pennsylvania do you understand the power and draw of Wawa. This is a convenience store that is light years ahead of Seven Eleven or Village Pantry. I never paid much attention to Wawas until they became a part of my daily life. Now I can't go more than a day or two without visiting one.

Why are they special? Start with the coffee. You roll into a Wawa first thing on a coffeeless morning and there is a handy row of steaming coffee pots carefully watched over by an on-duty human being. The choices are wide—from decaf to dark roast—and the pots are always full. The coffee's always fresh, too. That's because every Wawa I've ever seen is jam-packed with customers at all hours of the day and night so there's rapid turnover. The napkins, cups and lids, creams and sweetners station is efficiently organized—and right next to the donuts.

Next is the deli. You go to the counter, use a touch-screen computer to place your order for sandwiches, soups, hot dishes. It prints out a receipt that you take to the cashier while your order is being prepared. By the time you're done paying, it's ready for you. And the food is not just good, it's great.

I sometimes discover I'm out of dogfood when it's time for the dog's dinner. Wawa stocks it. The brilliance of their concept is to stock only one kind and just a few of anything. So, you see four cans on the shelf, one brand, maybe two flavors. It doesn't matter, you can always count on it being there. And when you only have one kind of anything, you can have a lot of everything.

With more than 500 stores around these five states, there's usually a Wawa close by, and that makes the stores a way of life in this region. I fully understand their slogan, "gotta hava Wawa." Out late last night, I needed some fresh limes to fill a sudden desire for a salty margarita when I got home. I remembered seeing limes at another Wawa a few days ago, and hoped our neighborhood one would have them as well. I pulled into the crowded parking lot and five minutes later was on my way home with some very nice limes.

No, I did not receive compensation from the Wawa company for this article. I just love it when businesses get things completely right.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

They've ruined it

Philly is all about food—working-class cuisine like water ices, pretzels, cheesesteaks, hoagies, Yuengling beer, TastyKakes and candy bars. When I moved here a year ago I fell in love with Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. I'm a chocolate addict and these things were just about perfect. They only cost 99 cents and you can get them at any Wawa, 24 hours a day. (Wawa is a regional convenience store that has a wildly popular concept I'll write about at another time.) I was a regular consumer of Peanut Chews, guiltily gobbling up two or three a week.

Imagine my skepticism when I read in the Inquirer that the venerable Philadelphia candy bar manufacturer had been purchased by Just Born, Inc. and some "changes" were planned for Peanut Chews to make them appeal to a national audience. I should've followed my instincts and bought up all the stock on hand at my local Wawa. That's because yesterday I bought my first "new and improved" Peanut Chew. The package had been redesigned and was much less effective from a branding standpoint. That should've been my first clue that I'd be disappointed. The new Peanut Chews are blander, sweeter, less authentic. I won't be buying them again.

Just Born is the company that makes those sickeningly sweet candies called Peeps—the fluorescent colored marshmallow baby chickens you get in Easter baskets and usually throw away. The new Peanut Chews taste like they mixed a couple of Peeps into the peanuts. Yecch.

I just wish people would leave well enough alone, and that national and international brands didn't always lead us towards the lowest common denominator.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Higbee Beach

It was hard, adjusting my California beach ethic to life in New Jersey. California is beaches done right. But Jersey's Higbee Beach has softened me.

New Jersey does have that pesky medical-waste-washing-up-on-the-sand thing goin' on. It's also where they charge you $4.00 a day to rent a patch of sand too close to obnoxious people who might or might not be talking too loudly about some personal issue you'd rather not know about. Some family member is getting a heap of abuse that makes you cringe even though you're not privvy to their—um—dynamics.

So when we bought our "hideaway" on the Jersey shore we had few illusions. This is Jersey, for god's sakes. We knew what we were in for. Then we discovered Higbee Beach, close to Villas, where our cottage is. It's on the Delaware Bay side of the cape, kind of out-of-the-way—forgotten.

Forgotten is good when it comes to beaches. No condos, nobody checks your beach tag. Fewer family feuds, cigarette butts, and less attitude. Dogs can go there, unfettered, which means Sami and I can both get some fresh air and exericse without forking over for a beach tag.

When we get there I throw the stick into the waves and he retrieves it. We do this over and over until we're both tired. The symmetry intoxicates me.

One thing about New Jersey beaches that beats California hands down is water temperature. In a Jersey summer, that water is perfect and the waves are even better. Swimming is irresistable—medical waste be damned!

Higbee Beach is remote for New Jersey—or for that matter for anywhere. Its wildness is satisfying. For generations it was an unofficial nude beach in Cape May County. Then Christie Todd Whitman became governor of New Jersey. She made sure they passed a law about that sort of thing. Now there are signs tht say nudity is not permitted in Lower Township. This means Cape May County, New Jersey, is telling the federal government what's permitted on its own land.

This is your lean government crowd in action, spending taxpayer money to employ an earnest young ranger-ette to drive a hum-vee sort-a-thingee up and down the beach making sure nobody is taking off their clothes.

Welcome to Republican America.