The Same Rowdy Crowd

Ruminations and Fulminations on Communication

Sinkholes, Horror, and Congress

Sinkholes. Sounds like Washington D.C.

In Florida, we have sinkholes that open, gaping, in the ground. Florida is a limestone peninsula riddled with caves and underground streams; as it rains and the limestone melts, open spaces in the rock cave in and the ground collapses.

This week, just east of Tampa, not far from where we live, a sinkhole opened under a house and a man in his bed, with a little of his bedroom furniture, dropped into the hole and disappeared. His body can’t be recovered from the hole, which goes down 50 to 60 feet and continues to grow. As the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “The sinkhole that took Jeffrey Bush’s life will be his final resting place.” It’s shocking. Sinkholes can open up anywhere. Our house is next to an ancient sinkhole that formed a tidal pond connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Another sinkhole could fall in at any time. We have, along with hurricane and flood insurance, sinkhole insurance.

SINKHOLE-2-popupA photo accompanying this story in The New York Times also shocked me. People across the street from the sinkhole house are out on lawn chairs in their front yards, watching the efforts at recovery and looking on as officials inspect and then condemn the house. They seem to be watching it like TV.

It reminds me of a scene in William Faulkner’s The Mansion, one of his Snopes books. A wealthy couple in a small town is getting a divorce, and the husband is moving out. Other townspeople line the fence at the couple’s house, and rural people come on mules and in wagons, to watch. Unashamedly. They just sit there, with picnic lunches, and watch.

During the first battle of Bull Run, people from Washington came out with blankets and picnic hampers to watch the war begin.

How cold to sit and stare at others’ horror.

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Bush when I say it’s too bad a sinkhole doesn’t open up under Congress in D.C. And then I realize that one has. And we’re all unwilling, horrified spectators as our economy falls into the gaping hole caused by Congress’s — mostly Republicans, in my view — shocking irresponsibility.

But I’m not going to pull up a lawn chair to watch McConnell and Boehner and their motley crew sink the country. I’ve seen enough and am turning away from the wreckage and the wreckers.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from The New York Times)

Chapter I: How Did I Get Here?

colllegeNote to readers:  What can I say?  A lot, apparently.  This started off as a simple post back in January, but it was a slow day on the work front and it was too damned cold to go outside if I could help it.  As a result, I found several hours later that I had run on for better than 3,600 words about how I was a lousy student in college and lived to tell the tale…and I hadn’t even gotten around to getting kicked out the second time or how it came to pass that I did get a college degree.  The first draft was such a hot mess that I let it sit for nearly a month before mustering the courage to come back to it. After looking at it again, I decided that the first part – 2,900 words – was not so much about how I screwed off in college (though there’s plenty of that) as they were a general recounting of how I’ve been “different” from way back. I could – probably should – have simply pitched the whole thing over the side, but since I’d wasted so long writing so much I decided to at least post the somewhat intelligible part as Chapter I of what may – or may not – be a series of posts about my youthful indiscretions (the ones I can cop to anyway).

Readers of a certain age may enjoy the result as a trip back to the 1970s and any parent of any child can now console him or herself with the words, “At least I’m not Austin’s parent.”  No matter what, that’s true.

I mostly look for ways to differentiate myself from David Brauer (and, I suspect, he from me), but I found a kindred spirit in his confessional about his failure to graduate college on schedule back in the 1970s.  In my case, it took 7 years, three institutions and the assistance of an entire village of friends, mentors and family to get one under-achieving slacker his undergraduate degree.  But for that assistance I suspect that I, too, would have been a long time going back to finish.  I’ve bored my family and friends many times by recounting my college career so why not you too.

Continue reading “Chapter I: How Did I Get Here?”

Oh Please…

woodward-1Bob Woodward’s hissy fit over being “threatened” by the Obama administration makes me think it’s time for the septuagenarian journalist (he turns 70 in March) to hang up his quill and retire to Martha’s Vinyard or wherever he summers. If he’s serious, he’s lost his taste for blood.  If he’s not serious (and I’m pretty sure he’s not), he’s lost his moves and the game has passed him by.

Continue reading “Oh Please…”

You Spoke, We…After a Couple Pokes in the Ribs…Rolled Over and Said, “Huh?”

FPV_Take-a-Nap_1112I believe I mentioned in a previous post that we – your humble and grateful hosts – are lazy.  We like a good nap and we think any nap is a good nap. Naps often rate above eating and watching HGTV (which is about as close to mindless entertainment as you can get).

But I digress.

On Friday, we announced our new policy of identification and rolled over and went back to our naps, content in having cast a tablet down from the mount to the masses below.  The masses – who normally are unable to agree on “two-legs good, four-legs bad” or whether the sun is up – came together and heaved the tablet right back at us where it nearly roused Keliher from a particularly enjoyable midday nap.

That’s a crisis.  We knew we had to act. Well, once we woke up and realized that the tablet broke a window, we knew. We got on it right after second lunch.

The purpose of the original policy was to promote better, more enjoyable and satisfying conversations and to cut down on some of the personal attacks, the speaking in talking points and the digressions into “did, did not” on topics that have been covered again and again and again.

Continue reading “You Spoke, We…After a Couple Pokes in the Ribs…Rolled Over and Said, “Huh?””

Hollywood Needs to Go Hollywood

In another life–that is to say, back in the day–I wrote about the movies. As a critic, I had my fans and detractors. But one thing you couldn’t take away from me is that I was one hell of an Oscar picker, with a lifetime batting average way over .900. You can look it up.

I haven’t seen all of this year’s nominated pictures and performances, so I can’t speculate on who or what will win tonight. But I do have a single, dead-certain, lock of a prediction for tonight’s Oscars: The program won’t be nearly as good as it could be. And it’s for the same reason it always turns out that way: The show needs more movies in it.

The best parts of every Academy Award telecast are always the clips–scenes from the nominated performances and pictures, historical montages, tribute pieces to the great, the near-great, the camp and the cultured, and, inevitably, the recently deceased. This is a show about movies, and it’s movies that we most want to see.

Why the producers of the program get this wrong year after year is a puzzle. Think how much better it would be if a dozen or so lesser categories were dispensed with for the live program. Let the Oscars for sound mixing, make-up, set design, costuming and the like move to the off-prime-time venue where various technical awards are handed out. Ditto those categories for films that virtually no one has seen or ever will. Let’s concede that nobody knows or cares about the Documentary Short that’s going to get an Oscar tonight, other than the people who made it and their dozen or so friends who saw it. Give it the Oscar, just don’t do it on the air this evening.ImageTake the time saved on these important, but less-than-compelling pieces of business and use them to give us a couple of minutes from each of the best film nominees. The same for the performance awards. Personally, I can always stand a little less of Daniel Day-Lewis than most people can–but it would be more captivating TV to see him go on a bit as Lincoln in Lincoln.

I’m sure none of this will happen tonight, or probably ever. We’ll wake up groggy tomorrow morning, sweep up the popcorn bits and wash out the wine glasses thinking about somebody’s barely-there dress or how Adele nailed it with “Skyfall.” And these things are intrinsic to the Oscar experience. I only wish the movies that inspire the evening were given a little more space to do just that.

Restarting the Discussion on Anonymity

ImageHello Crowdies –

Given that the discussion on identity, pro and con, has grown to a length where new comments are getting buried 3-4 layers threads deep, I’m moving the conversation to this post and will seed the discussion with a question addressed to both authors and commenters: would it be better if the management allowed anonymity but reserved the right to unilaterally delete comments it found inappropriate, unproductive, etc.?  I know some of the authors have already expressed an antipathy toward this approach (because we’re LAZY) but I’d be delighted to have a discussion on this point as it seems to be what some – DeRusha, PM and others – are advocating.


– Austin

Note From the Management

568190-biometrischen-hand-scan--id-erkennungIt’s hard to believe but January marked the 7th anniversary of The Same Rowdy Crowd.  During that time, we’ve had more than 1,650 posts and more than 21,000 comments.  We’ve had wonderful discussions and long-running shouting matches that are the semantic equivalents of “Did…did not.”

It’s the position of the management that we want more of the former and less of the latter.  As a result, starting now, we’re requiring all those who comment to use their actual names. No pseudonyms and make-believe need apply.

Please note that we are not in any way seeking to limit your right to say any silly thing that may pop into your head.  By all means, let fly when you disagree, digress, snort, holler, condemn, applaud, extoll, excoriate, praise, pillory and pontificate.  Just sign your name.

Continue reading “Note From the Management”

Ladies and Gentlemen: Your SRC Oscar Picks

NEW SLAUGHTERLet’s put talk of sequestration, “modern sport rifles” and the thought of Sarah Palin and Wayne LaPierre giving speeches to conservatives trying to figure why they’re a laughing-stock in public opinion polls … and talk about movies for a moment.

True, the Oscars are at least as bad as the Grammys in terms of being a credible award for artistry, but they’re what everyone knows and talks about. So quickly, my very deep thoughts on the top categories.


Amour  — As a fan of director Michael Haneke, I was only slightly surprised at the coolness of this film. My wife was quite put off. Mr. Haneke is no one’s idea of a sentimental filmmaker so I went in intrigued at where he was going to take a story about an elderly couple experiencing first a devastating physical breakdown and then death. He did not go for easy tears. The film has received some of the best reviews of the year, but it falters in comparison to last year’s top critical pick, the Iranian film, “A Separation”. Moreover, “The White Ribbon” is still Haneke’s best.

Argo — As adroitly constructed as it is glib, “Argo” is much better than average Hollywood entertainment, but lacks any aspirations to “art”. Very nicely directed by Ben Affleck, who seems to have rubbed his directing colleagues wrong enough not to be nominated, but may have the last laugh since I suspect the film will win Best Picture.

Beasts of the Southern Wild — If metaphor is a criteria for artfulness, here’s the year’s champ. The film’s low-budget seems to have forced the filmmakers to play closer to magic than reality. No other of the nominated films cast quite as deep a spell on yours truly.

Django Unchained — Really? Best Picture? My taste for Quentin Tarantino is all about dialogue and performances. When the cartoon violence sets in it’s like being trapped in the room while some nerd plays “Call of Duty”. Obviously, Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio had a great time shooting this, but excuse me if I resist the notion there’s a higher point being made beyond, “watch this shit”.

Les Miserables — I’ll go only when Wayne LaPierre personally holds a “modern sport rifle” to my head.

Life of Pi — Very nicely done. Terrific 3D and propelled by a compelling philosophic quandary. I admire directors like Ang Lee who consciously attempt something very difficult. Why it doesn’t have a better chance of winning escapes me.

Lincoln — My teeth were gritted for the first ten minutes, as I braced myself for a stale lesson in eat-your-broccoli nobility. But Daniel Day-Lewis is so damned good in everything he does (christ, his Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” is an all-time classic) I was soon won over. Having just read Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic”, about James Garfield 16 years later, I was impressed with the verisimilitude of the art direction — and disappointed Spielberg didn’t do more with it.

Silver Linings Playbook — Jennifer Lawrence is damned cute and Bradley Cooper holds up well opposite Robert DeNiro, but the dance-off ending is stock shtick and overall the word again is “glib”.

Zero Dark Thirty — Frankly, I never understood the excitement over “The Hurt Locker”. This is a much better, more sophisticated movie. The discussion over whether it suggests torture aided in the hunt for bin Laden will never be resolved, but it strikes me as honest to depict it, particularly in the context of the “professionalism” of the analysts and SEALs involved. It happened. All of that seemed real — and fits well with another book I read recently, “The Triple Agent”. But “artful”? Not really. More like a first-class documentary. But I loved her line to Leon Panetta — “I’m the motherfucker who found this place”.


Bradley Cooper — Good work, kid. But not good enough.

Daniel Day-Lewis — Why anyone else bothers when he has a film out I don’t know.

Hugh Jackman — Apparently, a nice guy … .

Joaquin Phoenix — “The Master” deserved more consideration than it got. What it was about baffles people, but I was caught up in the spell of conflicting subjectivity it seemed to be playing with. As in: Who’s reality is this, at this moment? Phoenix’ was a very, very unusual character.

Denzel Washington — The guy is friggin’ movie star. It oozes out of him. Every flick of the eye and muted grunt works in service to the character. If it weren’t for that damned Day-Lewis … .


Jessica Chastain — She carried a lot of narrative weight in “Zero Dark Thirty” and delivered on pretty much every level. But as good as she was I don’t have a hard time imagining a dozen other actresses pulling off the same quality of work in the same role.

Jennifer Lawrence — As I say, damned cute, and with a base of gravity beneath the sass. Still, there was too much obvious easy formula to the role to suggest she had to dig deep for what we saw.

Emmanuelle Riva — The grand old French actress is actually secondary, in terms of the moral conflict of “Amour”, to her co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant. She may win on a lifetime achievement vote.

Quvenzhane Wallis — The child star of “Beasts” is a remarkable character, a genuine bloom of imagination. But the film is (wisely) constructed for her to react more than lift and drive the story.

Naomi Watts — I like Watts a lot, (ever since “Mulholland Drive”), but her primary task here is to be pummeled by a tsunami and suffer in a hospital. The camera magic of the tsunami is what everyone will remember from “The Impossible”.


Michael Haneke  — “Amour” — Typically idiosyncratic work from a guy who operates by his own rules of storytelling. But not quite “The White Ribbon”.

Benh Zeitlin — “Beasts … ” —  A very good case could be made for this guy, who without question made far, far more out of what he had than any of his much better financed competitors.

Ang Lee — “Life of Pi” — This would be my vote. He pulled off a beautiful piece of work on a supposedly unfilmmable book and no end of technical obstacles … and without sacrificing an “artful” challenge to the intellect.

Steven Spielberg — “Lincoln” — Thank you again, sir. Very solid work.

David O. Russell — “Silver Linings … ” — Good script. Good characters. Well-directed. But that’s where it ends.

On the Road to Nowhere

NEW SLAUGHTERNot that any modern, talk radio conservative zealot is going take a clue from something as socialist and anti-liberty as The New York Times, but the rest of us can firm up our understanding of how bad the Republican party is today by reading Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece, titled, “Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones excerpts a bit of it this morning. But here is more. In it, Draper is shadowing a Republican pollster, sifting through the ashes of the election and looking for guidance to prevent what happened in 2012 (and really ever since Reagan) from happening again.

Draper writes:

“One afternoon last month, I flew with Anderson to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her conduct two focus groups. The first consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans. Each group sat around a large conference table with the pollster, while I viewed the proceedings from behind a panel of one-way glass.

The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.

“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

Later that evening at a hotel bar, Anderson pored over her notes. She seemed morbidly entranced, like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”

“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”

The stock wisdom is that “we need a stronger Republican party because, gosh, we must have a two party system”. Well, maybe. But one take-away from this snippet is that there is already enough range within the Democratic party to sustain a functioning balance of liberal and conservative … at which point the Limbaugh/Tea Party-toxified Republicans of today can continue their slide into a self-inflicted oblivion that only an aged, white few will even miss.

Happy Valentine’s from Andy Borowitz

February 14, 2013
Choking Back Tears, N.R.A. Leader Marries Gun
Posted by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In what he called “the happiest day of my life,” National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre marked Valentine’s Day by marrying his longtime gun, an AK-47 assault rifle.

Mr. LaPierre grew emotional as he reminisced about meeting the firearm at a gun show in Alabama in 1991.

“The chemistry between us was amazing,” he said. “Our first weekend together, all we did was shoot.”

Marriage between a human and a gun is not legal in most states, a situation that Mr. LaPierre bemoans: “For a lot of N.R.A. members it’s the only intimate relationship they’re capable of.”

The wedding ceremony was attended by twenty-five of Mr. LaPierre’s guns and over two hundred members of Congress.

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Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty.

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(NB: I start each morning with an email of Borowitz humor. It works for me. Check him out.)

The Double Standard for Drones

NEW SLAUGHTERYou did notice that the President avoided using the word “drone” last night, didn’t you? While there was verbiage about “no one taking his word” for certain national security activities, actually uttering “drone” would have jarred the primary thrust of the night. That would be: Squeezing Republicans into an ever-tighter corner from which their only option is to actually put their names on a vote, yea or nay, on dozens of ideas that make abundantly good sense to a majority of the public.

The drone controversy flared up again last week at a news conference Attorney General Eric Holder staged to discuss … at long, long last … actual legal action against the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for cooking data that enabled the giant banks to foist flagrantly crap mortgages as super deals for their customers. Given a choice, I’d demand for the most avid, intense media attention to be devoted to the Standard & Poor matter, given the urgent need to stop our financial cowboys from getting all likkered up again on bonus money and blasting the hell out of main street.

But Standard & Poor is numbers. Bankers are (or were) dull. Drones are sci-fi, hi-techy and morbidly sexy. What do you think will better hold a TV audience?

Clearly, even Obama knows he has to come up with a legal framework for drone strikes more coherent than what he has now. But he also knows the public isn’t much concerned about the rights of homicidal citizen-fanatics (or even fanatics’ relatives) erased by a thunderbolt out of the blue. Broadly speaking, the attitude is, “It’s their cost of doing business.”

What the general population does and doesn’t care about, or can’t be bothered to think about at a given moment is never a good criteria for judicial attention. But it certainly is a political reality, that in this case gives Obama quite a bit of time before handing a non-policy off to his successor.

Obama also seems to know that his most serious opposition on this one is with his most ardently liberal base. The irony here — just guessing now — is that many of that crowd, like myself, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt they never would give a Republican, especially if the next Republican is anywhere close to as reckless and inept as Dick Cheney, who threw back his crypt stone a couple days ago almost as if he wanted to remind people of what real untrustworthiness looks like. It’s a raw double standard, no doubt about it.

I have no idea at all what the perfect solution is here. But the idea of a FISA-like court seems unwieldy in the extreme, unless the idea is only to ID the target and present the known facts against him in preparation for taking him out whenever he next shows his head. But as the FISA system was gamed by the Bushies on domestic wire taps, (simultaneous with their bungling/cooking intelligence on the Iraq invasion, gaming the US Attorneys process, etc.) so we all have to assume it can be gamed by Obama and anyone else holding all the cards of intelligence and doling out only what they need to make their case.

The dilemma for liberals is in the cold assessment of cost-benefit of drone vs. all out “shock and awe” warfare. The legality here is beneath just murky, but drone warfare is both uncharted territory and by all appearances and accounts strategically effective and exponentially cheaper, both financially and diplomatically, than either ground or manned overflight. The influence of the left intelligentsia on this is valuable and should be encouraged, because I suspect it will lead Obama to a develop a more coherent template for attack … juuuuust before he leaves DC.

But until then, i.e. for at least another three years, I can live with his final authority on the button where as I would be shrieking like a banshee if a cynical incompetent like Dick Cheney were calling the shots.

Yet another episode of … “You can’t make this s**t up”

NEW SLAUGHTERThis just in … as noted Second Amendment freedom fighter, uber-patriot and Tea Party poster boy Ted Nugent sits down — in person — for tonight’s State of the Union Speech …


From a 1977 High Times interview dug up by Dangerous Minds

I got my physical notice 30 days prior to. Well, on that day I ceased cleansing my body. No more brushing my teeth, no more washing my hair, no baths, no soap, no water. Thirty days of debris build. I stopped shavin’ and I was 18, had a little scraggly beard, really looked like a hippie. I had long hair, and it started gettin’ kinky, matted up. Then two weeks before, I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips, Pepsi, beer-stuff I never touched-buttered poop, little jars of Polish sausages, and I’d drink the syrup, I was this side of death, Then a week before, I stopped going to the bathroom. I did it in my pants. poop, piss the whole shot. My pants got crusted up.


So I went in, and those guys in uniform couldn’t believe the smell. They were ridiculin’ me and pushin’ me around and I was cryin’, but all the time I was laughin’ to myself. When they stuck the needle in my arm for the blood test I passed out, and when I came to they were kicking me into the wall. Then they made everybody take off their pants, and I did, and this sergeant says, “Oh my God, put those back on! You fucking swine you!” Then they had a urine test and I couldn’t piss, But my poop was just like ooze, man, so I poop in the cup and put it on the counter. I had poop on my hand and my arm. The guy almost puked. I was so proud. I knew I had these chumps beat. The last thing I remember was wakin’ up in the ear test booth and they were sweepin’ up. So I went home and cleaned up.


But you know the funny thing about it? I’d make an incredible army man. I’d be a colonel before you knew what hit you, and I’d have the baddest bunch of motherfuckin’ killers you’d ever seen in my platoon. But I just wasn’t into it.”


Where does the cliche about the gun-loving, bad-ass who does everything he can to stay out of the military rank among Modern America’s Greatest Hypocrisies?

A Personal View of Mark Andrew’s Bridge to a Great City

When I drive over the evocative Hennepin Avenue Bridge, I think of my friend Mark Andrew and the surprising good that government can do.

Mark was on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners when the bridge was built, and he played a big role in choosing its design. At a time when public works mostly looked like Soviet bad dreams, this bridge, opened in 1990, gracefully echoed the original 1855 suspension bridge on the site, the first ever spanning the Father of Waters. Mark showed me that government can do things that are practical, on budget, and add to the richness of life.
Mark is now running for mayor. I am biased — he’s been a dear friend for decades. And I am not speaking for the rest of the Rowdy Crowd here — just putting in my two cents’ worth.

Mark would be a kickass mayor.

He announced his candidacy Thursday at Washburn High, with school board member Dick Mammen among those standing with him. Andrew, Mammen and I graduated from Washburn in 1968, the most tumultuous year in my lifespan, a year that smashed together revolution, despair, blood politics, the failures and promise of democracy and the ideal of public service. So here are Mammen and Andrew, 45 years later, sleeves rolled up, working to make Minneapolis a better place for everyone to live. I’m proud of my brothers.

Decades ago, they, with others, created the Youth Coordinating Board, which brought together the city, county and school board to deal with kids’ issues. And to give kids a voice in policy-making. Revolutionary idea. This shows Mark knows how to be a catalyst to bring together groups and agencies that don’t normally work together.

In Mark’s professional work lately, he’s been working with sports teams and public agencies to create green facilities and get companies and utilities to sponsor green public works, sharing in the reputational value of being good stewards of land, water and air. Back in his county board days, Mark helped get the Minneapolis Greenway built, the recreational corridor using old below-grade railroad tracks just north of Lake Street. That Greenway has helped spur development and boost property values — a central tenet of Mark’s approach: environmentally sound projects can create jobs, build tax base, and attract residents. Going green is the right thing to do, which Mark has known since being the first president of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group way back in the 1970s, and it’s also good for the city’s economy. Mark also helped bring together a whole bunch of governments to get light rail going in the Twin Cities — which has been a boon to transportation and development in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

More important, the guy’s got a soft heart, boundless (sometimes maniacal) energy, and a million ideas on how to make things better. He knows politics — was state DFL chair — but hasn’t lost his soul to it. He’s still a human being.

When Mammen was running for school board a couple of years ago, he said, “This is our town, boys, it’s in our hands now.” It’s like, when we were kids in South Minneapolis, we were borrowing dad’s car. Now it’s ours, and we have to take care of it. Mammen and Andrew are doing that.

I’d love to see Mark Andrew be mayor. Minneapolis would be better for his caring, his creativity, and his inability to give up.

— Bruce Benidt

(Bridge photo from Wikipedia)

R. T. ‘s Wonderfully Intemperate Words

You go boy. R. T. Rybak deserves kudos for telling it like it is on gun control. We seldom hear politicians saying something that sounds like a real human, but R. T. is laying it out on the political dancing going on over whether we can curb military weapons in our streets and communities.

With President Obama in Minneapolis Monday calling for tougher background checks and limits on automatic weapons and ammunition magazines, R. T. got his two cents’ worth in, at a premium. He was quoted in The New York Times, the Star Tribune and many other news outlets. (It’s not clear from the stories, and I can’t find anything on YouTube, whether R. T. said this stuff from a podium or to reporters. Anybody know?)

RT gunFrom The Strib: Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed outrage at politicians who already were talking down the proposal’s chances. “Well, guess what?” Rybak said. “People are dying out there. I am not satisfied with the main sort of front from the people in Washington, that this is sort of a game. Where are the other people on this issue? Get a spine, get a backbone. People are losing their lives.”

From The Times: R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, mocked politicians in Washington who are unwilling to support an assault ban. “Oh, it’s not going to pass,” Mr. Rybak said. “Well guess what? People are dying out here, and I’m not satisfied with the lame kind of response we’ve gotten from some of the people in Washington who look at this like some kind of game… I don’t think any of us should accept anything other than complete effort and knocking off the political wimpsmanship that I think too often takes place around these issues. Get a spine. Get a backbone because people are losing their lives.”

“Lame.” “Political wimpsmanship.” “Get a spine.” These are not measured words, not the stuff of gentlemanly debate. They’re pissed-off words. They’re intemperate. They’re real. They are the words of a leader, strong enough to move us. They are a call.

Outstanding. More.

— Bruce Benidt

(Image from

Hey Republicans, I’m Here for Ya.

NEW SLAUGHTERGod help me, but I almost feel sorry for them.

Last week the local GOP (or some variation thereof) held a panel up in a godforsaken suburb to get its collective head around the party’s very long list of problems. Needless to say, the presence of an incesstantly ranting, kvetching Tea Party blogger, one of Michele Bachmann’s “top” aides, a prospective Amy Klobuchar-fighter who couldn’t even beat Kurt Bills in the 2o12 primaries, Norm Coleman’s money man and a few others guaranteed nothing would be decided, other than that the Republican party both here in Minnesota and nationally will continue to be a farcical mess.

But we already knew that.

What that panel of the GOP’s best and brightest, all things being relative, needed was … me. As in a calm, rational, thoroughly biased voice saying, “Kids, let me tell it to you straight … .”

Oddly, I wasn’t invited. But since today we’re reading about Karl Rove’s latest strategy to reform the Republican “brand”, by (again) sucking millions of dollars from his Rolodex of robber baron chumps, it seems a good time to lay an effective solution out from a “reality based” perspective.

1: My good friend Sarah Janecek is right. (And I mean it about the “friend” part. Sarah is good peeps, her mid-range Republican delusions withstanding). If the GOP can’t agree on anything else, just get back to arguing about and campaigning on money. Everybody likes money. A lot of people think they understand how it works. Some of them are actually naive enough that they believe the same tax structures that prop up Wall St. banks and Bain Capital-like equity investors are also working for them. Never mind disabusing them of the reality of that one — that’s what liberals are for — just talk about money, which is another way of saying, “Lose the truly fruitcake social animus talk and the crowd that wants to hear it.” If it means a third-party challenge, that’s the hit you take when you’re in “rebuilding” mode.

2: Some how, some way, re-calibrate your primary system to block out the nut jobs. This shouldn’t be so tough, really. You’re Republicans for chrissake! What does representative democracy have to do with you? Just because the talk radio-stoked zealots swarm your caucus nights and stick you with the likes of Bachmann, Mary Franson, Cindy Pugh, Steve Drazkowski, Mike Parry, Allen Quist, etc., etc., and etc. some more, doesn’t mean you have to roll over and take it. Put up a damned fight! Rig the process. Or better yet, get rid of caucuses entirely, ditto your Tod Browning-like convention and push everything to the primary itself. If Rove, the Koch brothers and the other purses want to get serious about “reforming” your brand, let them slide cash to your sane(r) candidates.

3: Of course, both items #1 and #2 require that you actually take Bobby Jindal’s advice (which essentially echoes a popular line of thought from snickering liberals like me for the past 20 years or so) and “stop being stupid“. Within your bubble, where serious thinking wears the face of knee-jerk pandering/inciting bloggers, “top aides” for the most flagrantly uninformed, verbally reckless member of Congress and talk radio jocks, it’s easy to lose touch with what the 21st century is doing to Realityville, i.e. the actual world on the other side.

Just because I’m a great guy, here’s a quick rundown of your pet hot-button issues, stuff you’ve regarded as “essential to true conservatism” so long they’ve flattened bad enough in two consecutive presidential elections you’re now holding public forums to figure out what ran you over.

Immigration. (Get on board now and slap down the troglodyte factor shrieking “amnesty” just because Rush Limbaugh says so).

Women’s issues. (I hate to break it to you, but there are a lot of women of child-bearing age who look at your star chambers of silver-haired, Cotton Mather-style men and say to themselves, “You have got to be kidding me.” On the boy-girl thing, it ain’t 1950 anymore.)

Guns. (Go ahead, oppose the assault weapons ban on the ground that women home alone need a modern weapon with real stopping power when the ATF/CIA/FBI knocks down their door. You’ll look and sound like paranoid bag men for the NRA/gun manufacturers. But at least concede the universal background check. Unless of course you do think psychotics deserve “constitutional protection” just like you and me. Or at least me.)

Science. (It’s another word for reality. Your brand is in the toilet because it is 90% substance-free “branding” rhetoric and 10% response to facts. Human-caused climate change is an indisputable fact. Stem cell research holds untold possibilities for improving the human condition. At least get out of the damned way.)

Religion. (A private matter. Not something you inflict on anyone else for any reason, no matter what your well-remunerated mega-church pastors are telling you at your weekly hi-tech snake-handling sessions. Put another way — get out of voters’ personal lives. Or at least ask yourselves why you can’t?)

4: Get new leaders. The witches’ brew of talk jocks, bloggers and self-serving con men (Rove, Romney) have not and are not doing you any favors. You guys love dynasties. Even if you don’t want him to run for anything, take more advice from Jeb Bush than Eric Cantor, any/all of the Tea Party Patriot “spokesmen” (most paid off via Citizens United cash anyway), Pat Robertson, Jim DeMint, Jim Inhofe. Or, if you can’t stomach Bush, try Chris Christie. At least he’s savvy enough to know he’d get laughed out of the Bada Bing if he ever talked about “legitimate rape”.

5: And finally, actually do something. Drive some kind of legislation that is unequivocally beneficial to middle class voters. Your brand today is pretty much all about opposition. The only things you appear to care about are transparent sops to the Bain Capitals of the world (a money issue I admit, but one you can finesse with the usual bullshit) and the fears of aging white men. You may have missed this part in your “Marketing 5.0” seminars, but the key to successful marketing is to first … have a quality product.

Am I really the only liberal in the country who hasn’t already thanked, raised money for, supported, door-knocked for, voted for and attended the 2016 inauguration of Hillary Clinton as President?

I love these conventional wisdom commentators who are all saying the Democratic nod for president is Hillary’s if she wants it. Why? How come? Really?

Hillary for blogI’ve gotten emails every day for the last month saying “please sign this card for Hillary thanking her for her amazing superlative selfless saintlike damngood service to the country, the species and the universe.” It’s as if we’re all so greatly indebted to this masterwoman who lowered herself from her corporate board seats to serve poor drooling humanity one more time.

The latest is an email story from The Washington Post announcing a contest —  Help Hillary name her upcoming memoir. I’ve got a name for Hillary’s book that’s fitting — “ME!”

Let me step firmly off this bandwagon.

Carl Bernstein’s excellent and revealing 2007 biography of Clinton showed her to be soulless, a person driven by whatever is best for her. Measured, focus-grouped, a person whose core principles are all about advancing herself.

Has she done a good job a secretary of state? Yes. Has this been good service to the United States and world? Yes. Does she believe in and advocate for important causes, such as the empowerment of women worldwide? Yes. She, like all of us, is a complicated woman, a blend of selfish and selfless.

But what’s at her core? Watching her last week testifying before the Senate, reading — READING — her remarks about how she stood at Andrews Air Base and watched the coffins return from Benghazi and how she put her arms around the daughters and spouses showed her to be — hollow. Reading these remarks? Did she have margin notes — “Choke up just a little here…”?

This is the person who, in the 2008 campaign, when Republicans were attacking Barack Obama for not being American and for being Muslim, responded when asked about his religion — “As far as I know he’s a Christian.” What a profile in courage. The ugly sewer-level whispering about Obama was benefiting Hillary, so she was going to do the least required of her to deal with it. Compare this to what I’ve posted on this blog several times — Colin Powell excoriating his fellow Republicans for not stamping out this disgraceful canard.

Even my oldest brother, who can cherish a grudge like fine wine, says I have to let go and get over this. But I don’t think I will. Character, or its lack, shows through in key places in a person’s life, and I think with Hillary we’ve seen what we’ll get.

I don’t find her a compelling political leader nor a mind with great vision, as I’ve found Obama. She has a good shot at becoming the first female president — but should she be elected because she’s female? What’s the bumper sticker — “Not just any woman”? There are many women leaders in the country who would make better presidents, even if they would have a harder time getting elected.

But could Clinton get elected? I think her lack of character would show, as it did in the 2008 campaign. Against a genuine and passionate and younger Republican — she’d have great trouble.

But apparently I’m the only one who’s not waving a Hillary 2016 flag. I’m not ready for the restoration — I think it’s time to keep moving in the direction Obama is heading us.

— Bruce Benidt



(Image from NBC News

The Hagel Circus

NEW SLAUGHTERAs counter-productive as they are, I doubt Senate Republicans will block Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. “The Club” may have become a rancid redoubt of bag men (and a few women) for special interests, but Hagel has far deeper roots and cred with that crowd than Susan Rice.

But there’s already enough cynical posturing in the air over this guy, a truly endangered species, a “moderate Republican”, that it’s worth commenting on a couple of things.

1: Hagel was absolutely right when he described Israel’s out-sized influence on Congress as the result of the “Jewish lobby”. There’s nothing anti-semitic about that at all, as moderate and liberal Jews have argued in his defense. It’s a simple fact of life, stated bluntly, which is to say, rarely. As an embattled democracy in a region of genuinely lunatic conservative religious tribalism Israel deserves special support and attention from American lawmakers, many of whom have constituents or constituents’ relatives living in Israel. But Hagel’s point was the monolithic influence of Israel’s pan-Jewish supporters. Specifically, hyper-conservative religious tribal factions over there … compounded by extraordinarily well-funded, like-minded stateside supporters/zealots, one of whom is named Sheldon Adelson. (Adelson being a guy who should fear Islamic jihadists less and prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act more). Looked at big picture, “Jewish” is a more appropriate description than “Israeli”. But Hagel’s now modified his verbiage to calm the precious feelings of the few.

Discussions of Israeli behavior — settlement building, third-class citizenship treatment of Arab laborers — invariably involves the same inflamed, paranoid rhetoric the right has deployed for decades, on so many other issues. “Weakness in the face of terrorism.” “Lack of respect for democracy.” I’m certain there’s also a variation on “our sacred Second Amendment rights” in there somewhere if you look deep enough.  Leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu retain power only by kow-towing to the most conservative, most militant, least tolerant and unyielding religious forces (some of whom, a lot like our chicken hawk neo-cons — Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney — were long exempt from actual military service).

By all accounts Barack Obama can barely stand the scent of so cynically compromised a politician as Netanyahu. But they’re stuck with each other. We can only imagine the constant horse-trading on intelligence and cyber-warfare that must go on to give Netanyahu something to tranquilize Israel’s “deep praying” bullet-avoiding zealots.

2: I have no illusions that Chuck Hagel represents a sea change in US policy toward Israel, or North Korea, or Iran, or … name the scary monster-under-the-bed of your choice. But a standard rule of foreign policy is a bit like the old “Fight Club” line. Namely that you never actually say a dramatic change is taking place. Instead, you just quietly play a smarter game than before, which in the wake of Rummy and Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz (all still held in esteem by current Republican Senate leadership) is a very low bar for improvement.

But I suspect Hagel is in step with Obama’s pretty obvious determination to develop broader means of avoiding multi-trillion dollar ground war fiascos — like Rumsfeld so appallingly botched and Hagel voted against. My guess is that Hagel too snickers at “statesmen” like Lindsey Graham and candidates like, well, every Tea Party-fearing Republican, thumping their pampered chests for a preemptive military “solution” to the Iran problem. Though far less heroic and visibly macho, espionage and cyber-warfare hold far better potential for controlling rogue states — conservative religious tribal and/or purely sociopathic — than another round of “shock and awe”.

3: On the topic of Graham: He continues to reassure FoxNews that he’ll keep the emergency brake on the whole damned government until he gets answers on Benghazi. Now, since the Hillary Clinton smackdown blew up in his face, he wants out-going Pentagon boss Leon Panetta to give him … something … anything … to hold against Democrats for the 2014 election cycle. Personally, I’m still waiting for Graham’s theory of why exactly “we were lied to”? Because in the middle of an election campaign Obama couldn’t risk admitting the truth, that terrorists — i.e. a bunch of thugs with machine guns — had attacked Americans somewhere in a violent region? If that’s his argument, I really did miss Obama’s solemn promise that no American would ever be harmed by terrorism ever again.

4: I like Hagel’s rather more sophisticated thinking on the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. Have even the neo-cons run a simulation in which an attack on the US is thwarted by the possibility the bad guys in question will get … nuked?

Shootin’ Straight in Gila Bend

NEW SLAUGHTERGila Bend, Arizona

It’s a special feeling to be as close to the center of a specific universe as we were on Gun Appreciation Day. While the Constitution I clutched was only in my mind — and in jibbered-up fragments, since I’m terrible with memorization and can’t even get lines of movie dialogue straight beyond, “New shit has come to light, man” — I did have the company of “Your Gun Talk Radio Station” nearly all the way from Phoenix to Gila Bend, had I been able to endure it longer than its puny AM signal lasted.

Given the moment, post-Sandy Hook, threats/promises of new gun laws in the air and Barack Obama’s second inauguration set for a couple of days down the line, the conversation was pretty much as you’d expect. Tyranny is afoot. As predicted by both Nostradamus and Wayne LaPierre, liberals are coming to “grab your guns”, and the only sane response is to get yourself to the next gun show — which in Arizona will always be tomorrow morning, somewhere  — and stockpile up, while you still can.

But for some reason it was the commercials that struck me more as we finally departed the Phoenix sprawl and angled southwest toward I-8, San Diego and La Jolla, (where “Gun Talk” apparently isn’t syndicated, though everyone there looks to have a hell of a lot more to protect).

One three commercial block featured, in order, an ad for some kind of liquid “chelation” therapy, maybe in a 16 oz. can, of a science-y sounding gunk that promises to  “clean plaque out of your arteries”, without all that pussy-ass exercizing, rabbit-food eatin’ and yoga mat shit.  (“Hell”, I thought, “why  not just put that stuff on tap, and serve it to us at two-for-one happy hours”). Next came a spot for “restless leg syndrome” and a local “medical professional” (or at least guy who played one on the radio) who had found a cure-all the pointy heads at Johns Hopkins somehow missed. Finally, we had a spot for a bail bond service, for those times, I assumed, when you’ve been unconstitutionally hassled for exercising your right to swill chelation therapy beer while your restless leg hammers the accelerator to the floor and, imagining one more step, you road hunt with your Bushmaster for terrorist/immigrants coming through the Sonora.

Now, I’ll give the station, and its target audience, the benefit of the doubt that assume that somewhere else in the course of the broadcast day the ad breaks are wall-to-wall Audi-Mercedes-Biltmore weekends and Scottsdale gallerias. But, well hell, knowing a couple of things about what advertisers expect to find in certain radio audiences, artery-clogged bail-jumpers was probably about right for the “Gun Talk” crowd, so I doubt you’ll ever hear a pitch for the Audi S7, even in “Gun Rights” drive-time.

As I say, the callers and conversation were pretty much exactly what you’d expect, with a lot of reiteration of the “tyranny” thing and the currently popular assertion of “expertise”. This “expertise” business is always brought by way of posing a stark contrast to nattering “libtards”, silly know-nothings who get all freaked out and emotional at the sight of 20 shot-up first-graders and start running around breaking down doors and “grabbin’ guns”. The boys — all men calling in, but you already knew that — repeatedly emphasized to the host and each other, how much they knew about arcane firearm performance details. Muzzle velocity. Barrel dynamics. Flux capacitor ratios. It was pretty eye-glazing.

Since they all claimed to be experts I don’t know who they were trying to impress with the “more expert than you” shtick, but it was a prominent feature.

To anyone outside the “Gun Talk” bubble, which is a pretty healthy chunk of the population, this constant self-acclamation of “expertise” is about as impressive and counter-reassuring, in a “they doth acclaim waaay too much” way as the get-a-life football experts calling in to sports talk shows with their obsessively researched battle, excuse me, game plans for the Super Bowl. Both camps really need to find something else to do with their time, although in terms of posing any mortal danger, I can’t recall the last time some football nerd’s obsession nearly killed his granddaughter coming in after curfew.

By the time we reached the ocean — where we later learned Mitt Romney was also chilling, avoiding any pretense of being a good loser by attending the inauguration — local TV was running video of “gun enthusiasts” at some San Diego-area “Gun Appreciation Day” show.

Go ahead, describe for me the demographic make-up.

Time’s up.

If there was a black face in the otherwise all white, over-40, but mostly over-60 milling mob of white guys with a curious affinity for fu manchu style facial hair, he was selling Pepsi off in the wings.

Nor did I see a booth for the miracle chelation therapy drink, or bail bonds.

But the bottom line point is this: While Joe Biden and Obama and Diane Feinstein have a long, long way to go to get wobbly-legged Democrats — like Minnesota’s Tim Walz — to repudiate the NRA and get on the right side of history at this moment, the crowd deep in the “Gun Talk” bubble is losing by erosion of support and increased marginalization. Heightened media exposure — which will continue for months, if not years to come (we all know another mass slaughter is only days away) — is a steadily encroaching disaster for their “cause”. The more the broader public hears of the off-putting “expertise”of “Gun Talkers”, and sees of the weirdly homogeneous crowd fondling handguns and stroking rifle barrels in preparation for some imagined Armaggeddon, and reacts to that crowd’s glee at staving off bans on assault rifles and 100-bullet clips, the more the public consigns them and all their sympathizers to the same social compartment, labelled, “Nutty/Creepy — Keep a Distance”.

Good luck returning from that compartment.

Note From the Management

ray_gunsFor 35 days, the banner on our web site has been black in mourning for the lives lost last month in Newtown, CT.  This evening, we resumed our normal practice of posting to that space the topical, the whimsical and the pretty pictures that we occasionally find on The Internets.  Please do not mistake this action as a sign that the pain of that tragedy is lessened or that the urgency we feel to address the issues of gun violence is ebbing.  It isn’t.

I was encouraged by today’s inaugural remarks on the topic and by the recommendations announced last week.  They aren’t enough, we should do more, but they are a start.

Hug your kids, hug your grandkids, hug the kid next door; if we can do something that might save one of their lives some day, shouldn’t we?

– Austin

“If I Were King”, 2013 edition.

NEW SLAUGHTERThe King apologizes for being out of court for the past fortnight. Official business in the distant reaches of his vast realm required his attention. But now, upon his return, he sees that the usual assortment of mulish knavery, imbecilism and jowl-flapping pedantry is still afflicting his people … and he is not pleased. Then again, he’s built an empire on never being pleased about anything, except for perhaps the swift and cruel humiliations of his enemies, like in the most recent election. (Although he would have been happier had it been far swifter.)

So, as he brushes dust from his raiment and rests his road-weary crown on its velour pouffe, The King summons his sullen scribes with this year’s list of changes deemed necessary to restore peace and harmony to his lands.

Here, here and herewith:

1:  The King has had it up to his royal migraine with fools with guns. And while a fresh series of decrees will be helpful, few things will cut to the core of the gun “problem” like a strategy for extracting the misguided notions of bravery, masculinity and exceptional expertise from what is plainly an juvenile, emotional cry for relevance. As a Catholic-in-name-only The King finds shame to be particularly useful in reducing a pretense of courage to its essential silliness. Therefore …

1 (a) The royal populace will be routinely informed — by its media — of how low the actual violent crime rate is, the ridiculous odds against being a victim of a violent home invasion in most of the kingdom’s neighborhoods, the number of innocent people killed or wounded by terrified homeowners opening fire simply because they were “patriotic” enough to buy a gun and the utter ludicrousness of Constitutional illiterates thinking their basement arsenal is going to keep the CIA and ATF at bay when Big Gummint comes to take away their “freedoms”.

1(b) Not only will the name and address of every gun owner be placed in a kingdom-wide data base, for all to see, especially all those hardened criminals plotting to break in and kill them for their flat screen TVs, but every individual gun owned by that individual will be listed, as well as every purchase of ammunition … and that individual’s criminal history, be it for tax fraud, reckless driving or restraining orders by old girlfriends. Criminals … and cops coming through the door … have a right to know what they’re dealing with.

1(c) The kingdom’s entertainment industry, its jesters and dramatists, will cease trading in revenge fantasies involving gunfire. If aging macho men like Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis require mass amounts of ammo to shore up their manly bona fides the kingdom’s taxing authority will assess a per bullet fee for every shot fired. At a rate of say $50,000/bullet sound effect, producers will quickly reevaluate the cost of producing brain-numbing dreck appealing mainly to emotionally unevolved males and so many “overseas action markets”.

1(d) Likewise, the kingdom’s video game industry, financially linked to the gun manufacturing industry, will be subject to the same bullet assessment, plus another for body count. The King has ordered his court minions to come up with a scale of quantifiable video game “storyline” stupidity for additional assessing, but is still awaiting their decision.

1(e)  The kingdom’s gun lobby, so fearful a presence in the careers of elected noblemen and women, will NOT be granted “a place at the table” in conversations about getting rid of this form of homegrown terrorism. The liquor industry isn’t routinely invited to AA meetings, so why should the NRA, a paid bitch of the gun manufacturers, be granted a voice in dealing with the mayhem caused by their products?

1(f)  The King hereby orders immediate repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005. The act prevents lawsuits against gun manufacturers in state and federal court. Last time The King checked, drug manufacturers can still be sued if their products kill people. By lifting the PLCA Act the gun manufacturing industry can bravely, courageously and patriotically face the same kind of legal liability as everyone else in the large and happy kingdom.

And on other matters …

2. No money handler in the kingdom caught defrauding citizens through fraudulent loan modifications, “robo-signing” foreclosure documents or any other such 48th floor knavery will be able to settle complaints “without admitting guilt”. In other words, like a street punk caught smoking a joint behind a royal stable, anything Bank of America, AIG or Goldman Sachs says can and will be held against them in a court of law … even after the kingdom accepts a pennies on the dollar settlement for flagrant fraud.

3. The King is also very bored with these episodes of repeated obstruction. The King recognizes the opposing feudal barons, also known as the Republicans, have no actual legislative plan of their own, much less any control over the 50 to 70 manifest morons identified as “their base”. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to suffer for the sins and lack of discipline in that house of fools. Therefore, The King will be exercising the 14th amendment over the debt ceiling stupidity and every other executive order he can grab at to blow past these idiots and get a few things done around here. And so what if they howl about violations of their precious “Constitutional freedoms”? They scream that when you’re standing still waiting for them to pull their thumbs out of their butts, so what is The King afraid of?

3(a). Ditto the Senate “filibuster”. Take it out behind the petit palais, borrow a bullet from the NRA and be done with it.

Finally, 4. The King fears few things more than intrusion of movie musicals into discussions of art. Musicals are twaddle for a generation still clinging to Lerner and Loewe. The King has faced many fearsome opponents on the field of battle. Hideous goons with broken teeth, sallow eyes and hot, diseased breath. (Oh, sorry, those were agents of the American Legislative Exchange Council “instructing” salaried court knaves on proper decree-writing.) But nothing is as terrifying as The Queen forcing him to attend “Les Mis” and listen to Russell Crowe sing.

God save the kingdom!

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. (And they wrote that line of copy for us.)

I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at the year that was. Onward!

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Silence of the NRA, The Voices of the Children

Only once in my crisis-counseling career have I advised a client to just stay quiet. Say nothing. Don’t return media calls. It was an organization accused of something, and they knew worse was likely to be disclosed. Nothing was going to help — not getting out in front of it, not giving a short, straight explanation, not an apology. They just had to keep their heads down and take a beating.

Usually the communications advice in a crisis is to say something, even if it’s just to say “We’re looking into this and will get back to you.” (I am not one of those who advises people to mouth that empty cliche, “We take this very seriously…” — Well, duh, what are you going to say, “Nah, we don’t really care”?) The advice is usually to get your point of view in the mix as soon as possible.

The National Rifle Association has kept its head down since the shootings in Connecticut. Not a word. Not a reply to reporters’ calls, according to The New York Times. No tweets, no website comment for several days after the shootings. Don’t even return reporters’ calls? That’s a no-no in our business. But, really, what could they say?

Newtown Connecticut shootingNow there is a post on that says the organization was allowing time for mourning and that the four million NRA moms, dads, sons and daughters were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the tragedy. Then: “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again. The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.”

Stay tuned. In the week since the shootings, the weather has changed for the NRA. Politicians are starting to find their spines. Some reasonable forms of gun and bullet control, once passed and then rescinded, may return as public horror and anger grow. Brian Lambert’s take on leadership in his most recent post lays out the issues well. Leaders at many levels — city, state, federal — are stirring.

But follow the money. The NRA can stay silent in public but speak with their dollars in elections. That’s their MO. A story in Tuesday’s New York Times shows how they take out legislators who are insufficiently loyal to their view of the Second Amendment.

But money cuts both ways. Pressured by the California teacher’s pension fund, Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity fund that owns several gun companies, is selling them. “The move by Cerberus is a rare instance of a Wall Street firm bending to concerns about an investment’s societal impact rather than a profit-at-all-costs ethos,” the Times reported. Some public employees don’t want their pension money supporting 30-bullet magazines. Way to go.

The NRA has been speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Maybe, this time, at last, their voice, and their money, will be overwhelmed by the voices of little children, eloquent in death.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from

Post-Sandy Hook, an Acid Test for Actual Leadership

NEW SLAUGHTERMuch like how the word “hero” has been devalued by slapping it on every kid who scores a goal in PeeWee soccer, instead of remaining exclusive to people who risk life and limb to save or protect someone or something else, the word “leader” has also been diminished in recent years. An indispensable (and irresistible) tic of marketing jargon, “leader” today has been pretty much reduced to describing anyone who “wins”, which is to say “leads” in ratings, sales, revenue, page views, and Twitter followers.

Excuse me, but I prefer a bit more cred in my definition  of “leader”. I want something that has a fat chunk of the old school criteria of “hero” wrapped up in it. Where “leader” described, for example, a person who dares to take the first step into a dangerous, perilous environment because it’s the right thing to do and because … someone has to show courage and risk pain to get the tough things done.

President Obama gave another moving speech Sunday night at the memorial for the kids and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. But after delivering four of these eulogies in four years (and passing on literally a dozen other “opportunities”) I don’t know what the guy can possibly say the next time, beyond, “This shit has got to stop.”

To date, Obama the deft politician, has played the far margins of America’s highly irrational gun “debate”. Every strategist has no doubt told him that there is no “winning” in any attempt to legislate sanity into the sub-culture of gun obsessives, people who regard their “right” to own and stockpile home arsenals as an imperative equivalent to breathing. Even at this moment, after his unspecific call to do “something”, Obama has to be calculating the effect of merely hinting at new controls on assault rifles, high-capacity ammo clips, hand guns, registration loopholes and internet ammo sales.

If his election in ’08 (and again last moth) setting off a buying frenzy among the country’s gun fetishists, convinced without reason that a socialist, liberal, black, Kenyan Muslim was going to send Black Helicopters full of ATF agents to confiscate their AR-15 squirrel-hunting rifle, you can only imagine the hysteria that will follow word — via Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews and local outlets like Phoenix’ “Gun Talk Radio” — that the bastard was actually making a move. By day’s end, every ammo warehouse in Pahrump, Nevada be stripped clean, and crowds out front would be milling ravenously, like extras from “The Walking Dead”.

Perhaps even worse, a serious, coordinated move on weapons of mass human slaughter would have the political effect of sucking the air out of every other thing Obama wants to accomplish in a second term. What he is weighing, I suspect is that lacking a constructive agenda of their own, Republicans, led by their “entertainment news complex”, have only obstructionism as a means to impact legislation. The GOP’s radical base would love nothing more than a fight over “constitutional rights” as a way to avoid dealing with genuine tax reform, entitlement spending, climate change … and every other thing we need the government to act on.

But upon the bodies of 20 bullet-riddled grade schoolers (and their teachers) Obama may have arrived at a point where he has no choice. Playing the deft political game of strategic avoidance isn’t going to cut it anymore. We may have reached a point where not just his base, but a critical mass of the “reality based” public will hold his legacy accountable if he fails to make a serious, concerted effort on gun control. An effort to defeat the roiling, semi-to-outright fanatical subculture that to date has successfully obstructed every attempt to put the United States on a civilized, first-world, 21st century legal footing regarding private gun ownership.

But we the public have good reason to expect effective leadership from others in addition to Obama. The regularly pilloried news media — credible institutions like daily newspapers and affiliate TV news rooms — are also in a position of having to put some skin in a risky, fight-worth-having. I note the Star Tribune this morning editorializing against assault rifles, high-capacity clips and the familiar litany of flabbergasting absurdities in our gun “laws”. Thank you, for that. But the Strib might be well advised to make the peeling of the onion of gun obsession a major commitment over the coming months.

Likewise, TV news, which floats on a marketing plan of neighborliness and fraternity while simultaneously lubricating its revenue stream with ghoulish coverage of any kind of mayhem that delivers “hot pictures”, is going to have to decide if it’s going to be part of the solution or just continue playing professional empaths to the latest appalling tragedy. It’s nice that all the local anchors demonstrate paternal concern after every one of these atrocities. But it would be far more helpful if they actually acted like the “leaders” they constantly promote themselves as being and also took a public stand in support of correcting gross misperceptions about violence in America, (we’re safer in our homes than we’ve ever been), if not the regulations most of the reporters, anchors, and news directors know are long, long overdue.

While I seriously doubt TV stations will get anywhere near such leadership, and newspapers will largely wall it off in earnest editorials, everyone effected by this kind of home-brewed terrorism needs to be honest about who were dealing with and what we’re afraid of.

Everyone can pick their favorite research, but the most credible is clear that an obsession with guns has profound psycho-sexual roots in feelings of inadequacy, marginalization, lack of power over personal fate, graspings for respect and authority and of course some level of paranoia. These aren’t  just references to the Jared Loughners, James Holmes and Adam Lanzas of the world — clear psychological basket cases — but fundamentally anyone who stockpiles ammo, “collects” assault rifles and makes the manifestly irrational argument in favor of military killing machines, high-capacity clips, internet ammo sales, etc.

Moreover, as I’m certain Obama well knows, the crowd who makes these pro-assault weapon arguments (otherwise known as the “arm the teachers” argument) is essentially the same crowd also making irrational, emotion-based arguments denying human-caused climate change, insisting only tax breaks for the wealthy and social cuts for the poor (and mentally unbalanced) can pull us out of recession, that “legitimate rape” prevents conception, that evolution is an unproven theory and on … and on.

The time for a “public dialogue” with this crowd is over. That dialogue, really an eye-glazing ranting match, has been had ad nauseam. There is no productive point to it. Their arguments were long since exposed as fallacious and nonsensical.

But that crowd can still do plenty of mayhem. They form the basis of the “primary challenge” scenario that terrifies every Republican incumbent. They will empty their bank accounts to support everyone taking a harder, tougher, crazier stand than the guy wobbling in the face of being shamed into voting for the right thing.

Politicians and anyone else daring to promote themselves as a community leader is going to have to suck it up, gird themselves, take the flack — and hit to advertiser dollars, if … if … they have any conscience about being a responsible citizen.

Over the past decade, counting the build up of the intelligence industry and two wars in the Middle East, United States taxpayers has spent well over a trillion dollars fighting terrorism, which is generally defined as any act that injects a pervasive fear into the population. So what else to do you call this gun insanity? What has to stop first is the craven pandering to and avoidance of a political subset most notable for their irrational fear-mongering (with, As I say, rates of violence ironically declining in all Western cultures), hot button hysteria and the willingness to support their most cherished single issue with their checkbooks.

Genuine leaders will have to isolate this sub-culture, by calling it out for what it is, and then take the fight directly into its face by laying out how the rest of us — including cherubic grade schoolers — are being held prey to their paranoia.

30 Murdered at Connecticut Elementary School

30 people shot and killed by a 24-year-old who carried this rifle, legal rifle, in the land of the NRA, into an elementary school while it was in session.

18-20 of the 30 dead were children – many in kindergarten – from 5 to 10 years old.

The 24-year-old also killed his mother, a teacher; he’s dead, as well.

We must take our country back from the NRA and now.

Explain this:

AP: Suspect used .223 caliber rifle. This is a picture of a .223 rifle. This is legal.

The Next, Next Big Things

OfficeWhite_House_Situation_Room_Friday_May_18_2007One of my preoccupations  is trying to guess what’s coming down the road.  This is an activity of both personal and professional interest and is pretty much what you might expect from a guy whose office sucks more electricity than the White House Situation Room.

I mean, really, we’re a global superpower and we expect the President to run it with what looks like maybe 10 monitors?  I bet the Chinese have a cool Sit Room.

But I digress.

What’s next for technology and those of us who depend on it for our livelihood and – increasingly – swim in its ubiquitous fog 24/7.  This morning I read a really thought-provoking post on that topic: “20 Tech trends That Will Define 2013” as selected by the folks at Frog, the design shop that helped Apple and others come up with the form and function of some of their iconic products.  It is highly recommended if you want to know what the folks who live 30 minutes in the future have planned for the rest of us.  Personally, I’m looking forward to it.

Happy holidays to all.  If this post gives you the urge to give your loved ones the gift of technology this season, I highly recommend checking on one of the many gadget sites on this list.  If it inspired you to give the gift of technology to me, I’m lusting after but haven’t been able to yet justify the purchase of a Windows Surface tablet.

– Austin

The False God of Business

Rick Scott, our corporate-criminal governor here in sunny Florida, has said he wants the state’s colleges and universities to run more like businesses. This is a disease that is spreading to public education around the country.

I think this view would make Thomas Jefferson retch. So would being in the same room with Rick Scott.

Scott wants to charge less tuition for majors that prepare kids for jobs the economy needs now — engineering, technology, health care. On the surface it’s an intriguing idea. But it reduces education to job training, to providing work-units for business moguls.
Rick-Scott fraud

If students have to pay more for a history degree than a biology degree, fewer will study history. Or English. Or philosophy. Or government. “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe,” Jefferson said. He believed that, as political storms blew the country from right to left and back again, an informed electorate would be the safeguard against extremism and tyranny. He believed American democracy would only work if citizens were educated and aware.

If we treat higher education as just job training, how will we develop an informed citizenry? How will people learn how to think critically, to separate political lies from the record of facts, to understand how our government and our world work?

There may not be a capital market for citizenship, but without citizenship this country will become just market segments for ad buyers.

Scott, as CEO of healthcare giant Columbia HCA, ran a company that defrauded the federal government (which means all of us, the taxpayers) by swindling Medicare, resulting in a $1.7 billion fine. Scott made out just fine though — when the HCA board dumped him because of the fraud, they gave him a $10 million severance package and $300 million in stock. No wonder he wants to run state government like he ran a business. And no wonder Mitt Romney, who made millions by, in many cases, leveraging companies into bankruptcy and stripping and shipping out jobs, thought business was a great model for government. Business is a fine game for the winners.

Didn’t a majority of American voters just spurn a businessman’s pitch to treat this country like a business? A majority of voters decided that business’s main goal of funneling profits to the tiny group of Romneyfolk who already have most of the wealth isn’t a good governing principle for the majority of us.

President Obama pointed out that, running a government, he has to think of all the people; those running a business have to think only of some.

Should the Grand Canyon or the Everglades be run more like a business? Should a sunset? The human body? A marriage? Diplomatic relations with another country? Poetry? Absolutely; poetry should be run more like business. And so should the wonder of a playful kitten. And one’s youth — that should surely be run more like a business.

Cretin. Philistine.

— Bruce Benidt

Blizzard of 2012: Please, just carry on

My backyard

We live in Minnesota. It snows. Madre Nature often drops copious quantities of snow on us just to remind us what’s what.

What does it all mean? It means snow blowers and snow shovels — or, at least, the arms, legs and backs of their operators — get a workout. It means snowball fights are imminent. It means pitchers and catcher report in 63 days.

But it does not mean we need every local TV news station to give us full-team coverage with a moderately sized army of unfortunate reporters and meteorologists standing in front of different piles of white stuff from across the greater Twin Cities. If anything, this blizzard just gives the meteorologists something relatively interesting to talk about for a change. Let ’em have it — within their regularly scheduled few-minute segment, of course.

Then return us, please, to our regularly scheduled newscast.

Still Talking Without Walking.

NEW SLAUGHTERPost-election, it has been a slow news month. That’s the only explanation for the breathless anxiety the media has given the fiscal cliff “negotiations”. Why anyone thinks this will be resolved until the last possible minute, or until John Boehner concocts a scheme whereby a majority of his caucus doesn’t have to vote “yes” on increased tax rates for 2% of the population would mystify me if I didn’t understand that the news media needs a conflict better than, oh I don’t know, conservatives’ scheduled/annual/rote indignation over the “War on Christmas”.

The gridlock over this one — which, like the election, Obama will eventually win handily — reminds me again of one of the better analyses of the current conservative malaise, or dysfunction, or bat-shittiness that appeared after the November 6 smackdown. (BTW, my prediction of Obama winning by 1.5% and just under 300 electoral votes has now been downgraded from a B+ to a B- as votes continue to be counted. As of today Obama’s popular vote margin is pushing 4%, which along with years of polling on tax reform, explains his confidence in the next bitch-slapping Republicans are about to take.)

The piece was National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s, “The Party’s Problem”. For the unaware the young Mr. Ponnuru holds a kind of William Buckley-lite standing among what passes for thinking conservatives today.

A collection of quotes forming the gist of Ponnuru’s take:

Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him. …

The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role in the 2006 and 2008 defeats. But it’s also true that Republicans weren’t even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them. Taxes had been the most powerful economic issue for Republicans for a generation, but Republicans misunderstood why. In the ’80s and ’90s, Republicans ran five presidential campaigns promising to make or keep middle-class taxes lower than they would be under Democrats, and won four of them. In 2008 they made no such promise but did say they would lower the corporate tax rate. …

The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren’t offering anything more — not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. … The Republican story about how societies prosper — not just the Romney story — dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say.”

The business about the Republican message being built around this mostly mythical laser-focused “small business” entrepreneur, not a guy just making a living, but someone ostensibly and obsessively laser-focused on creating the next Apple, (or, if you’re a conservative, the next Monsanto), is rich for a deeper dialogue. (Some people want to do more with their lives than make a gob of money.) But as Ponnuru implies, there’s quite a bit of doubt that the Republican party, as presently constructed and controlled, has any ability left with which to search its soul and take action on its worst flaws. (Mainly because every remedy will be attacked by the “conservative entertainment complex” as “liberalizing” true conservatism, whether the issue is getting sensible about immigration, or more sophisticated about foreign affairs strategies or, god forbid, conceding a minor uptick in tax rates for “small business” entrepreneurs, you know, like hedge fund traders and Bain-style leverage capitalists).

But what struck me most about Ponnuru’s generally thoughtful analyses was that it was really all about …messaging. About how important it is to talk differently about essentially the same policy positions that clearly aren’t appealing to young people, women, minorities and “Reagan Democrats” (i.e. northern blue-collar white males).

Ponnuru, at least in this piece, chooses not to address what I believe a fat chunk of the population sees first and foremost when it looks at the modern Republican party. Namely, that “these guys haven’t done jack shit for me.” Put another way, the Republican message today is all message and no substance. There’s nothing real and tangible undergirding any of it, certainly nothing that has any “reality-based” value to a majority of the middle class. The Texan variation on this is, of course: “All hat, no cattle.”

The GOP’s bubble world/echo chamber factor is blatantly obvious every time Boehner or McConnell steps up to the microphone and serves up a fiscal cliff “plan” devoid of anything remotely resembling specifics. Their latest “offer”, out yesterday, essentially listed $500 billion in cuts under the heading of “from somewhere … to be decided later”. This from the party who, you remember, once put out another budget plan … that had no numbers in it.

Point being, the only people who continue to think this stuff is valid, serious and effective are the same crazies who forced the party into a primary season fiasco of beyond-parody, self-serving political grifters (Trump, Cain, Bachmann, Perry) and pushed their one viable candidate, Romney, into fringe rhetoric that rendered him toxic to the coalition he needed to win.

Like a baseball team that has suffered yet another embarrassing losing season, Republicans would be well-advised to concede that they have no choice but to go into “rebuilding”mode, which would mean giving up on the once upon a time “can’t miss” rookies who became undisciplined, counter-productive head-cases, and accept that a better path back to contention is by sticking to the basics, like, you know, legislation that serves the majority first.

William Souder’s “On a Farther Shore” Scores NYTimes Nod

Congratulations to our very Rowdy William Souder whose biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore, has been named to the “100 Notable Books of 2012” by the New York Times.

What a nice acknowledgment for our friend of a job well done.

Author and reviewer Elizabeth Royte calls Williams’s writing “absorbing.” Here’s part of her summary:

In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating: her difficult personal circumstances (she grew up in rural poverty, was the sole breadwinner in her family and battled breast cancer while writing and then defending “Silent Spring”); the publishing milieu; and the continuing friction between those who would preserve nature versus those who would bend it to provide utility for man.

Sources also tell me Bill will be on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” this Saturday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. our time. (And, no, I am not his press agent.)

How cool is this all? Way cool. Nicely played, Master Souder.

I Didn’t Much Feel Like Working Today, So…

…band mashups I’d like to see/hear. I’m sure someone has already done this somewhere, so I purposely didn’t do a search. I prefer to be an ignorant pioneer than an informed follower. There seems an infinite number of these, so a free copy of Joe Loveland’s new book titled Wry Not: a collection of blog posts in printed form requiring no additional work to anyone that adds to this list. As always, no rules.

Young MC5



Barry White Stripes

Young MC5

De La Soul Asylum

Three Dog Night Ranger

Average White Band of Skulls

Luscious Jackson Browne

QuietDrive by Truckers

Sammy HaGarbage

LuLucinda Williams

Duran DuRancid

Rolling Stones Temple Pilots

Color Me Baddfinger

The English Beatles

The Big Wu Tang Clan

No Doubtlaws

The Blind Boys of Alabama Shakes

Electric Light Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (ELOMD)

Lil Bow Wow Wow

Mary Chapin Carpenters

James Taylor Swift

Buddy Guy Lombardo

Fleetwood Mac Davis

Megadeth Cab for Cutie

Buddy Hollies

Megadeth Cab for Cutie

Steely Danzig

Grateful Dead Kennedys

Dead MilkMen at Work

Minnie Pearl Jam

Flaming Lipps Inc

LL Cool J Geils Band

The YardByrds

Kenny G. Love & Special Sauce

Grant Lee Buffalo Springfield

Kings of Leon Russell

Frank Black Sabbath

Lloyd Cole Porter

The James Gang of Four

Tower of Power Station


John MellenCamper Van Beethoven

The Dirty Three Dog NightRanger (a triple)

Prince and the New Power Generation X

Bing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

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