The Refuge of the Weak

February 21, 2011

There’s a good editorial in today’s NY Post. I say good because it makes fun of my dad. I love doing that. His name is Billy Easton, and he’s the Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a NYS education advocacy group. Usually, when I make fun of him, I call him an old man. NY Post takes a different tack. Check it out:

Thus was Easton’s “organization” — it’s actually an Albany mail drop — listed among similar “groups” delivering Valentine’s Day “Don’t Break Our Hearts” cards to Albany legislators last week demanding that they “reject Gov. Cuomo’s $1.5 billion in school cuts.”

Brilliant! By wrapping the word organization in quotation marks, the author more or less proves that my dad’s organization is not an organization. It’s not a group either, that word also quotation-ed out. Thus my dad must be something corporate and evil. You know, like old man Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the NY Post. The author finishes the passage by quoting the demand of my dad’s group: “reject Gov. Cuomo’s $1.5 billion in school cuts.” This time, the quotation marks do double the work: their traditional job–quoting–and their supercharged, smackdown job–mocking whatever the author places between them. Instead of presenting the merits of his sides’ argument, the author just wraps quotation marks around my father’s argument. Much easier! And it more-or-less proves that we should gut the already struggling NY education system. Good stuff.

The article gets funnier. Refuting the AQE’s claim to advocate for “fair funding and smarter spending” (quotes!), our author spits this gem: “Spending on teachers, that is.” Gasp! As everyone knows, anything italicized is shocking and evil. Who spends on teachers?! Teachers are fat cats trying to ruin America. That’s why they’re italicized. Everyone knows that.

Let’s wrap this thing up:

[Easton] is ubiquitous in Albany and worked the floor at Cuomo’s budget presentation like a carnival shill.

Albany being Albany, that may not be illegal. Still, the Commission on Public Integrity would do well to take a long, hard look at Billy Easton and his — dare we say it — “group.”

In other words: Albany being the capital of a democracy, citizen advocacy groups pushing elected officials to adopt public interest policies may not be illegal. Pretty outstanding that it’s not, what? Carnival shill!

Maybe while the Commission on Public Integrity is looking hard and long at my dad, they’ll also check out the writer of this editorial and his — dare I say it — “newspaper.”


You v. Wyoming

February 16, 2011

Some people puke when they see charts. I puke when I think about how undemocratic the Senate is. So, I decided to make a puke-green chart so we can all puke together:

(click for larger version)

Wyoming has 1.5% of the population of California but equal power in the Senate. Of course, everybody knows this. But it should be more controversial. This basically means that a Californian is 1/66th as politically significant in the Senate as a citizen of Wyoming. Or, more simply put, BLEH-FAHLOOUR-RECHT-ICK-DAH-LEEEEUUEH-huh-huh-hurr. And other puke sounds.

Violence Update

February 16, 2011

Since my last post, one dude got shot a few blocks from me as I stood on a friend’s porch. I heard the gunshots. Another dude got shot outside of my office. Also, protests turned violent in Bahrain. Connection? I don’t think so.

Also, New Orleans is dying.

Violence and 2011

February 12, 2011

I was given a flier explaining that the world is going to end on May 21, 2011.

So far, the year has been rife with violence. At least, for me. On New Years eve, for no reason whatsoever, a fellow I had just met punched me in the back of the head. I had never before been in a fight. This was the best kind to be in: I was not the aggressor and I quickly won. It was not, however, some kind of Fight Club-esque, transcendental revelation. It was just strange. My thanks goes out to the blonde, tuxedoed white knight who pulled us apart while my companions cackled on.

Two other friends got in fights that night. Neither known for his violence.

At the warehouse attached to my mother’s office in upstate New York, three men were shot and a woman pistol-whipped. A motorcycle gang was having an illegal after party. All four of the wounded survived.

All of this before January 2nd.

My taillight was kicked in. While I researched replacements the next day, a few young men shot up a car outside of my house. I had never before heard gunshots intended to kill. Thankfully, none of the three passengers were hurt. Not even grazed. Still, I stopped complaining about my taillight.

On a grander stage, there was Tucson. The deaths of Christina Green, Dorothy Morris, Judge John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabriel Zimmerman are deeply sad. But the heroism of the bystanders is inspiring, the resulting conversation on American political rhetoric valuable and the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords remarkable.

Then there are the ongoing world events. The vote in Sudan to divide the nation. The protests in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. The concessions of the King of Jordan. So far these events are more notable for their lack of violence. But the line is thin and it may still be crossed.

I feel a bit ridiculous listing all of these occurrences in one blog post. It’s absurd to compare my New Years brawl with Tucson or Egypt. I don’t think of myself as a mystic but this is a mystical way to read the news. Still, I can’t help but feel strange about the contemporaneous occurrence of violent events in my personal life and those on the global stage. I justify myself by observing that nobody seems confident in how to react to the various world-historic events of the past month. I take heart because none of the events I’ve listed, from the shooting outside my house to the vote in Sudan, are as bloody as one would expect. What place does such a subjective, generalized assessment of current events have in political commentary? Probably none. Still, I offer a prediction: 2011 will be one of those years, like 1917 or 1969, that are long-remembered in the history man.

I only hope it’s not because that flier turns out to be right.


January 28, 2011

Like many English majors, I spent a spell living like a homeless person in my car. I thought you might like to see my library:

Typically, the trunk was stuffed more than it is in this photo. This was taken while unpacking in New Orleans. Sorry for not providing the full experience.

State of the Union

January 26, 2011

In the wonky circles round the net that I find myself reading when I’m not driving about the country actually working on politics, good commentary on the State of the Union abounds. Ed Kilgore does a solid job summarizing the political significance of the thing. And Matt Yglesias boils it down to a sentence:

As I understand it, gay soldiers will win the future by riding high speed trains to salmon farms.

The general consensus is that the speech was vague on policy specifics (and that doesn’t matter since the president cannot achieve any policy goals with the Republican-controlled House) but was a very smart piece of strategic, political positioning (which also doesn’t much matter either because November 2012 is still a long way off). I generally agree. But I want to point out that, as far as I can tell, this speech is the first time that Team Obama has adopted the Mitch McConnell world view, turned it on its head and used it for their own purposes. Here’s McConnell, from Josh Green’s profile in The Atlantic, on his policy of strict obstructing all of Obama’s legislative proposals:

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”

According to McConnell, the majority of Americans are politically pretty oblivious. They don’t read proposed legislation. They don’t even read wonks who read proposed legislation. They just absorb the political climate surrounding proposed legislation: bipartisan support = good, no bipartisan support = bad. Thus, McConnell concludes, if his party denies support to ALL of Obama’s proposed legislation, then it will all = bad. Which of course is good for Republicans. But very bad for the country, as Matt Yglesias points out, because our country’s government structurally requires bipartisan votes in order to function.

Now, it seems to me that at last night’s address Obama and the Democrats played their own version of McConnell’s game, but they reversed it. Instead of strict obstructionism, we got enforced conviviality. First, you had the bipartisan couples sitting throughout the chamber, as opposed to the traditional partisan seating arrangements. McConnell wasn’t happy about this idea. It gave the impression that the whole audience was cheering the President, not just his party. Bipartanship = good.

But my favorite moment of enforced conviviality was a slick maneuver Obama pulled in his speech. Speaking on the American Dream, he said:

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner, to whom this passage obviously refers, were seated right behind the President. After Obama’s words, they couldn’t not chuckle, smile, shake hands and slap each other on the back. They were forced to be convivial. It’s a tremendous image of bipartisanship, inspired by the President’s words and backdropping his speech. And so, if you follow McConnell, the largely oblivious American people will believe  that “there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.” And that way is Obama’s.


January 22, 2011

I want to visit all 50 states. To do this, one needs to define what counts as visiting. I’m conservative in this, so I say I’ve got 12 to go. You liberals, who count the states I visited when I was too young to remember and the state that I drove through but never slept in (Indiana, smells of sulfur), may say I’ve only got 7 left. You commies might even say that I’m done: what are political borders anyway?

Here’s a map:

(click for full size)


January 16, 2011

Selby and I returned to Los Angeles, and rested, and ate Mexican, and dealt with the great baked-potato-fallout of 2010. I burnt my mouth on one. At least I learned a new word: debriding: the chemical removal of flesh around a wound so the wound may better heal. Or, as in my case, suffer more deeply.

I got my oil changed, said goodbye to Selby and then drove 14 hours on I-10 to El Paso, where I slept in my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I bought a peach yogurt at the Wal-Mart. The lady at McDonald’s refused to give me a spoon because I was not a McDonald’s customer. I vowed once again to never be a McDonald’s customer. The next day I woke up and drove the 9 hours (again on I-10) to Austin, where I dallied two nights, then drove to Houston for a night before landing in New Orleans. I’ve now driven the length of I-10 in both directions.

And in New Orleans I am still. Working once more on Treme, the HBO series. I missed my October resolution to get this blog up-to-date by New Years, but at least I’m completing my New Years resolution to update this blog by 2012. I’ll be back now and again with bits on New Orleans and other reflections. Cheers!

Grand Canyon: North Rim

January 11, 2011

The drive to Grand Canyon, through southern Utah and northern Arizona, is long and empty.  On the way, you’re likely to remark that Bryce is more beautiful than anywhere else and to doubt your earlier, novice impressions of Grand Canyon.  And then you get there and wearily clamor to the edge and stop remarking altogether, your jaw dropped too low and your voice squelched.  If you recover from that initial shock, you may find yourself quoting the late president Teddy Roosevelt, declaring Grand Canyon “one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.”  At least, that’s how it went for me.

I mean, look:

I don’t have enough megapixels for this kind of sweep.

Selby and I talked to a most-knowledgeable ranger who outlined all the best, secret camping spots in the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the park.  We ended up driving forty minutes down a dirt-rock road, my Hyundai Accent vibrating all the way and my CD skipping, to clearing bordering a hardly-accessed section of the park.  You’re not technically allowed to camp in the park without a permit, so we pitched our tent on the forest-side of the fence.  It was dark when we arrived and we were hungry and cold and frustrated by the drive.  So we setup camp by the light of high beams and Selby cooked steaks on the campfire like a hunter gatherer (with a grocery store).  In the morning, we made coffee and walked forty feet into the wood, where we stood on the canyon edge, not a soul in sight, our voices once again squelched.  Not bad.

Here are some photos not taken there:

If you’re bold, you can sit on the rim:

If you’re even bolder, you can do this:

Or, really pushing it, this:




December 17, 2010

Bryce is nice:

If you look at it, you will gasp.  Like this rock wall gasps:

You will then see hoodoos (not the magic, the rocks):

And this rock:

And this rock:

And this rock:

And this rock:

And this rock:

And this rock:


You’ll also see this tunnel.

Maybe you’ll even see Selby.

Here she is drinking coffee like a tourist:

Here I am drinking water (while holding coffee like a multi-tasking tourist):

Here is a freezing sunrise over Bryce (sunrise over ice?):

I almost got frostbite on my fingers.