Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day Seven: A Week Without Dubya

We did it! Kiko's House made good on its pledge to go a whole week without mentioning King George.

Today we examine how the parents of a slain 2o-year-old university student have honored her memory in the year since her murder. Click on the links at the end of the piece to see how you can get involved. We also present our kitty photo of the week, as well as some other odds and ends.

Don't forget to send in your comments on how to fix America's health-care system. (Scroll down to a March 25 post for details.) We're getting some excellent submissions, but still need to know what you think.

Meanwhile, we're off to the mountains for a few days to sniff the orchids. I'll resume blogging mid week.

-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

Remembering Lindsey Bonistall

I’ve covered a fair number of murders in my time, including the infamous Nicole Brown Simpson-Ron Goldman double homicide and subsequent trials, but Lindsey Bonistall was different than all of them.

Lindsey was a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Delaware. In a chilling instance of serendipity, she sat right in front of me when I guest lectured a journalism class at the university in late April of last year. Seventy-two hours later -- one year ago on Monday -- Lindsey was raped and strangled by a man who broke into her off-campus apartment and then set a fire to cover his tracks.

Few of the students that I lectured that afternoon seemed particularly engaged. It was gloriously sunny and most of their young minds were elsewhere, or they were busy surreptitiously text messaging on their cell phones. But I did notice Lindsey, who was attentive and took down my pearls of wisdom in a notebook. I learned later that her goal in life was to write “with purpose and passion,” as her father put it. I had told her classmates the same thing in sharing my blunt mantra for aspiring journos:

If you don't have purpose, passion and an insatiable curiosity, don't waste your time in journalism, because you'll just be wasting my time as a reader.

I did not realize that Lindsey was who she was until her photograph appeared with a newspaper story two days after her murder. I had a little boo-hoo when I made the connection that the young woman looking up at me from the paper was the same person. My tears were both for Lindsey and because I have a daughter the same age who also lives in an off-campus apartment, although at a faraway university.

Thank you with bearing with me, because I’m finally going to get to the point.

From all accounts, Lindsey was vivacious, had many friends and was a hard worker, but in the year since she left this mortal coil, she has accomplished more than she ever had been able to in her short life.

Lindsey was from White Plains in Westchester County, New York, which has sent many students to the University of Delaware over the years. Her parents, Kathleen and Mark Bonistall, could have dried their own tears and gone back to their daily routine after the funeral, but they have turned her passing into a crusade.

Kathleen and Mark are not interested in seeing Lindsey’s assailant fry. In fact, they are against the death penalty, which is what her shiftless, drug-abusing murderer likely faces upon conviction and many people no doubt believe he deserves.

No, the Bonistalls’ crusade is to remember Lindsey by helping others learn how they can live safer lives and to make sure that the university and Newark, the town in which it is situated, do their part.

(I indirectly played a role in the latter effort with a well timed interview with a local TV network news affiliate and well placed op-ed piece in the same newspaper that covered Lindsey’s murder. I’m told that both rattled some cages. My piece was headlined “Newark Hasn’t Faced It’s Ugly Reality,” a reference to the fact that Lindsey’s murder was only the latest, although certainly the most awful, crime in a wave of violent home invasions, muggings and other crimes that I believed had left town and campus police befuddled. I said much the same thing in the TV interview, which was taped beneath the boarded up windows of Lindsey’s apartment.)

As a result of the encouragement of Kathleen and Mark Bonistall, their family and Lindsey's friends:

* The campus police have expanded their off-campus escort program. The number of rides given has doubled and the program may be expanded from three weekend days to seven.

* Five new officers have been added to the town police force, and there are said to be more foot patrols, although I see no evidence of that, which is unfortunate because there may be no more effective deterrent to crime than the visibility of officers walking a beat.

* The Newark rental market has gone through a welcome upheaval because of safety concerns of potential renters. Some landlords have installed locks on windows, improved lighting and made other safety-related upgrades, and grant money has been made available to defray costs.

* A program to inspect off-campus housing has been instituted. Certified “safe” rentals will be posted on a new Web site.

The Bonistall family, with help and support from Lindsey’s friends, have created a group called PEACE OUTside Campus in conjunction with the Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation. There are chapters at the University of Delaware and University of Kentucky, and they plan to go national with their campaign to make campus and college communities safety.

Nothing is going to bring Lindsey back, but Newark today arguably is a safer town and more like its once tranquil self because of Lindsey Bonistall, her family and friends. Bless their hearts.

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

There will be a memorial service for Lindsey Bonistall at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 on the Green on the University of Delaware campus.

Go here for a link to PEACE OUTside Campus and the Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation. To read a poem by Lindsey and a message from her family, go here. An obituary on her is here. And here is information on a scholarship fund established in her memory.

One Picture is Worth a Thousand Gallons

With great ceremony, clownmaster Dennis Hastert and fellow Republicans arrived at a Washington, D.C., gas station for a press briefing this week on how Congress is going to deal [sic] with high gas prices in a hydrogen-fueled hybrid. Afterwards, they drove a few blocks and then bundled into Hastert's big SUV for the ride back to the Capitol.

It should be noted that hypocrisy is a bipartisan dish at the Congressional cafeteria. Most legislators drive gas guzzlers, the 14 mpg Chevy Suburban being the favorite, and apparently only Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana drives a hybrid, a 60 mpg Toyota Prius.

Hastert, it seems, has become as big as a Prius. Must be all that pork.

You Can't Put Lipstick on a Pig

The Guantanamo Military Commissions have been quietly going about their business behind the scenes -- quiet, that is, if you haven't actually attended the sessions, which a dismayingly small number of journalists have been doing. (But then, hey, who wants to be holed up on a military base on the butt end of Castro's Cuba with nothing to do when court is adjourned except watch Caribbean sunsets or drink at the officers' club with disgruntled lifers who would rather be stationed almost anywhere else.)

Anyhow, an ACLU observer blogs that despite the best efforts of the Pentagon to put a happy face on the proceedings:
It's fair to say that [they] have been a public relations disaster for the U.S. – not because the congenial military spinners lack skill, but because they have such a lousy product to sell. When former members of the prosecution characterize the Commission system as a "fraud on the American people"; when a Commission member, sitting as judge and jury, concedes under questioning that he is unfamiliar with the Geneva Conventions; when the Commissions feature the extraordinary spectacle of a shouting match between two colonels in the U.S. military – one the Presiding Officer, the other defense counsel – over the lack of clear guidelines for these proceedings; the problem is not one of communications.
While history will ultimately judge the War on Terror as a worthy cause, the verdict will be harsh when it comes to the utter disdain with which the Geneva Conventions were viewed by the U.S. government that helped create them (remember Clara Barton?) after the Civil War and was the major backer of a comprehensive update after World War II.

And how extraordinary that a commission judge said he wasn't familiar with the conventions, something that was hammered into me and every other young boot in basic training and remains embeded in my brain many years after.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish.)

Neil Young's 'Living With War'

You can listen to "Living With War," Neil Young's new album, online for free. Put on your headphones and click here.

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Lily (left) and Tiger lap up their morning cheese
Lily and Tiger are the progeny of Country Bumpkin, a contributor to Kiko's House, and his wife.

I'll let Mr. Bumpkin take the story of this beautiful pair of tabbys from here:
Tiger and Lily are refugees we found 8 or 9 years ago in a little cage at the Cats' Protection League in Wellington [New Zealand] . They had an abusive childhood, we were told, and it took them years to settle fully into our family life.

Tiger's lame and can't run or jump very well -- he has an injured back leg. To this day, Lily won't sit on my lap, but she and he are sweet-natured darlings. Stretched to full length, Tiger is more than a metre from tip to tip, so he's a big boy.

They both love to eat cheese.

We'd had three cats before these two -- Purrgeot, Merde and Spike Milligan. Spike lived to be 21 and was the last to shuffle off. After a few months in an empty apartment, we couldn't stand it any longer, so off to the Cat's Protection League we went.

And glad of it we remain.
* * * * *
Want your cat to be more famous than you are?  Just attach a photo of him or her -- or them -- JPG to an email and send it along with a few choice words to kikokimba@gmail.com

Friday, April 28, 2006

Day Six: A Week Without Dubya

One more day to go and we'll be through our week without any posts on King George. Whoopie!

We've broadened the Kiko's House palette today with posts on a little bit of everything (other than the regent in chief, of course), including some stuff we'd usually save for Science Saturday.

Tomorrow's posts will include some dark and some light: We'll examine how the parents of a slain 21-year-old university student have honored her memory in the year since her murder, as well as our gratuitous kitty photo of the week.

Then we'll be off to the mountains for a few days.

Iraq I: A Bridge Too Far

Tigris Pipeline Crossing: Three years on and still no oil (*)
For the most part, we're going to keep our powder dry here at Kiko's House on the panic in Washington over soaring gasoline prices until we resume bashing King George next week. But with idiotic solutions like giving every driver $100 to help offset higher costs at the pump, you can be sure that the likelihood of anything positive coming out of the frenzy is zero to none.

Ditto for Iraq.

Remember how those invading Americans were going to dust off all those flowers that welcoming Iraqis threw at them and hunker down to the business of getting the country back on its feet?

The key to this effort was repairing Iraq's decrepit oil refining infrastructure in order to generate big bucks for a new Iraqi government. This also would mean that a gadzillion barrels of crude could be shipped to the thirsty U.S, which played into the oft-stated but unproven notion that the entire reason for toppling Saddam was oil.

Well, it never happened.

This is in part because many of the billions of dollars that went to Halliburton, Vice President Cheyney's former sinecure, and other firms to do the oil infrastructure rebuilding, were pissed away.

In an especially egregious example of the U.S. promising but not delivering, a Halliburton subsidiary was paid $100,000 a day to repair a major pipeline crossing (see photo) at a bridge over the Tigris River that three years later is still in its bombed out state, according to a depressing New York Times investigative piece by James Glanz.

This is no small thing because the 15-pipeline crossing had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and export terminals and refineries.

'I'LL HAVE TO GET BACK TO YOU ON THAT'

Back in Washington, Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, appeared at a White House briefing to tout You Know Who's energy plan.

Hubbard could cite to the teaspoon the amount of oil that would have been pumped from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if Congress didn't keep rejecting calls to open the environmentally fragile area to drilling. But -- and I know this will come as a shock -- he said he had no idea how much oil would have been pumped from those Iraqi fields had the U.S. delivered on its promises.

His response:
I'll have to get back to you on that.
Right, Al. Right.

(*) Photo by Christoph Bangert/Polaris, for The New York Times

Iraq II: Yes, He Was a Very Bad Man

Do we need to be reminded that Saddam Hussein was a very bad man? Yes, because even when he's raving in the dock at his on-again, off-again trial, he can seem like a distant abstraction given the mess the U.S. has made of the post-invasion occupation.

Now comes Foreign Affairs magazine with a detailed look at a report commisioned by the U.S. Forces Joint Command on Saddam's brutal dictatorship. Unbelievable!

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish.)

Iraq III: Sorry, Mate, Wrong Body

The Aussies have their knickers in a knot over the body of a Bosnian soldier, rather than that of a private from Briagolong in rural Victoria, being flown home from Iraq by mistake. Turns out it's not the first time it's happened. Tim Blair has more.

Unanswered Questions About United Flight 93

As noted earlier this week, the controversial movie "United 93" opens today in U.S. theaters. That is bound to reopen old wounds, as well as remind us that while we have a pretty good idea of the final chaotic minutes of the flight, there still are unanswered questions aplenty.

I was well into punching up a list of these questions -- chief among them why no apparent effort was made to intercept an aircraft headed for the U.S. Capitol -- but my bud Will Bunch beat me to the punch at Attytood. Go here for more.

Moscow as Whore

Another sign that the irrational exuberance that greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union was a trifle premature: Russia is giving the Bronx cheer to the U.S. and E.U. and is about to sign an arms deal with Syria -- or is it Iran? -- that is sure to prompt apoplexy in Washington and Jerusalem.

The Guardian's Tom Parfitt delivers the bad news here.

But wait! This just in:

Maybe Russia is just being an opportunistic whore. It has been brought to my attention that it launched a satellite for Israel earlier in the week that will be used to spy on Iran's nuclear program.

More on that All-American Health-Care Crisis

We're getting some super replies to our invitation to blog on how to fix the health-care mess in America, but it's not too late to add your two-cents worth. Scroll down to my March 25 post to learn more.

In the meantime, a new survey shows what has become all too obvious: Gaps in insurance coverage, a problem that has long afflicted lower-income families, is becoming an all-American problem.

Some gory details from the Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance Survey:
While lack of insurance continues to be highest among families with incomes under $20,000, uninsured rates for moderate- and middle-income earners and their families are rising, putting their health and financial security at risk.

The survey finds that most of these individuals reside in working families: Of the estimated 48 million American adults who spent any time uninsured in the past year, 67 percent were in families where at least one person was working full time.
For more on the study, go here.

The New Racism

America being the constantly evolving country that it is, we're finding new ways to be racist.

My son notes this over at Cassidy's Blog:
I've noticed a discouraging trend in the national discourse, where bigotry, hatred and simple racism have become not only acceptable, but almost chic. . . . Consider two recent events, the Dubai Ports Deal (DPD) and the Danish Cartoon Controversy (DCC). Both were and should have been cut-and-dry issues, but they exposed some pernicious undercurrents in our society.
Indeed they did. Check out Cassidy's discourse and let him know what you think.

American Physics at a Crossroads

Humanity stands on the verge of immensely important discoveries about the building blocks of life and the universe, but whether those discoveries will be made in the U.S. or Europe is very much in the balance.

I myself couldn't give a neutron about whether that happens here or there, but a panel from the National Academy of Sciences is in a lather over raising the half billion dollars (yikes!) to build a giant particle accelerator now being designed by a worlwide consortium on American soil.

Dennis Overbye tells us why we should care in a New York Times article.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day Five: A Week Without Dubya

Well, we're nearly through our promised week without any posts on King George, and I'm finding that music goes a long way toward helping this blogger to (temporarily) exorcize his presidential demons.

In that spirit, today's posts are the Kiko's House equivalent of a music issue. Enjoy! Or bear with us until next week when we promise to bring the king back with a vengeance.

Bruce Springsteen: Let Him Be

4/20/06: The Boss and wife Patty Sciaffa with the Seeger Sessions Band

Music critics can be a catty lot, so I shouldn't be all that surprised that Bruce Springsteen’s superb new Pete Seeger tribute album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” is getting mixed reviews.

It’s not that some critics don’t like Springsteen or Seeger. They just don’t like Springsteen doing Seeger. Some of these critics are obviously stuck in the skip. For them it will always be 1975, when Springsteen was singing “Thunder Road” and first regaling his fans with tales of the Jersey shore and growing up blue collar.

Other critics just don’t embrace anything by The Boss that doesn’t have E Street Band written all over it, while still others find “We Shall Overcome” too dark. (These chuckleheads said the same thing about “Nebraska,” a 1990 Springsteen acoustic album that was his first big break with his musical past and just gets better with age.)

Well, I sometimes wish it was 1975, too. Because then I could revel in the fact that I still had hair . . .

Uh, wait a minute. That’s not the point I wanted to make. . .

If it was 1975, I could revel in practically being able to reach out and touch Springsteen on the stage at the Stone Balloon, a small club in
Newark, Delaware, where I saw him early on his road to the big time and the cavernous ice arenas and outdoor stadiums where he played later on.

But it isn't 1975 and won't ever be again. Besides which, as a music lover I have stayed true to a deal I made with musicians a long time ago:

I might not like all of the music play, but I absolutely support your right to play it.

* * * * *

Joni Mitchell’s seminal “Mingus” album (1979) is among the most pungent instances of an artist’s most ardent fans (and fawning critics) turning on them.

Looking back on the long arc of Mitchell’s career as a singer-songwriter, it should have come as no surprise when she moved on from her flower power roots. Joni had way to much going for her to be stuck in that groove.

The only surprise was that it was to embrace the hard bopping repertoire of Charles Mingus, the great jazz bassist and composer. The result was "Mingus," with Mitchell singing over and a great ensemble playing under great adaptations of the great man’s great music.

I was rapt by Mitchell's transformation not least because I had the hots for her at the time. There also was a big bonus: The anchor of her band was a brash young latter day Mingus by the name of Jaco Pastorius. I had never heard anyone who played the electric bass like him. No one has since.

One of my roommates at the time was beside herself over what she termed Joni’s "big sellout.”

I suggested that my roomate get a life. I added that Joni obviously had one.

* * * * *

Two other examples of the sickening thud of listeners’ expectations colliding with an artist’s creative drive come to mind:

Bob Marley making room in his repertoire of Rastafarian anthems for love songs with “Kaya” (1978), which drove a Rolling Stone reviewer to near apoplexy. (“How dare he betray his roots?”)

Why couldn't we allow the man who sang about shooting the sheriff ("but I didn't shoot no deputy, oh no") to take some time off from the revolution? ("I wanna love you and treat you right; I wanna love you every day and every night.")

"Kaya" confirmed for me that this great artist – after Louis Armstrong perhaps the second truly international music star in that he also was hgely popular in Africa – was no one-trick pony.

Then there was:

The Grateful Dead going disco with “Shakedown Street” (also 1978), a departure that had hard core Dead Heads sobbing into their tie-dyed t-shirts. Bad acid, man!

I loved "Shakedown." It confirmed that disco wasn't all that awful; the problem was with its usual practitioners. The disco beat took Jerry Garcia and his guitar into new territory, which included some incredible wah-wah work. And the Dead always were much better in concert than in the studio, and this was indeed the case when they took "Shakedown" out on tour.

* * * * *

So what was the first time that I heard that sickening thud?

Bob Dylan going electric.

The guy who lived across the hall from me in my freshman year of college was an upperclassman by the name of Jack who was a fiercely unreconstructed folkie: Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Ian and Sylvia, Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot and, yup, Pete Seeger. But most of all Dylan.

Jack came back from summer vacation with the news that Dylan had horrified he and the other faithful at the Newport Jazz Festival by playing amplified music.

“What’s wrong with that,” I asked.

“It’s not folk music,” Jack stormed.

Jack also needed to get a life.

Me? I rushed uptown to pick up Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home,” his first electric album.
It has long been a favorite. Matter of fact, I played it just the other day.

Phil Walden (1940-2006)

Phil Walden was a 27-year-old manager and booking agent for musicians when his main meal ticket, R&B singing great Otis Redding, died in a plane crash in 1967.

The music business being a fickle mistress, the death of Redding (shown with Walden in photo) should have short-circuited his burgeoning career, but lightning struck a second time when he recalled hearing the sensational guitar work of a session musician on Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” and asked the producer who it was.

“He said it was some long-haired hippie guy down in Muscle Shoals,” Walden recalled years later. “I said: 'I'm going to Muscle Shoals. I'm gonna sign him and put a group around this guy.' "

The guitarist was Duane Allman and the group Walden signed to his new Capricorn Records label was The Allman Brothers Band, whose first (and subsequent) albums went platinum.

The rest, as they say, was history, but actually more of a short story when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, and another of Walden’s meal tickets crashed out early.

Walden, who died this week at age 66, went on to manage and promote other artists and bands from the Deep South, including The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop and The Dixie Dregs, earning him the moniker of “the father of Southern Rock.”

REMEMBERING 'SKYDOG'

None of Walden's groups approached the success or sheer talent of Duane Allman and his band.

I was fortunate enough to see Allman twice before his death, which was pure serendipity considering that I was trucking around the Far East for three years until early August 1971 and Allman died only two months later.

Fortunate does not describe the experience of seeing Duane Allman live.

“Skydog,” as his friends called him, was indisputably one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitarists of all time and a master of the slide guitar, but I treasure him most for his extended jams (with rhythm guitartist Dick Betts, brother Greg Allman on keyboards, Berry Oakley on bass and twin dynamos Jai Johnny Johnson and Butch Trucks on drums and percussion).

Over the years, Walden had to deal with bankruptcy and alcohol and cocaine problems. The Allmans, claiming that he had underpaid them for album sales, sued him in the late 1970s and won.

* * * * * *

For more on the Allman Brothers, see the Kiko's House Disk Picks for April below.

Quote du Jour

Miles Davis on how to make great music:
Don't play what's there, play what's not there.

Kiko's House Disk Picks For April

As I've noted previously, good music gets a whole lot gooder when it can be shared.

In that spirit, here are the five marvelous disks currently in the CD changer at Kiko’s House. All are recently released or still in print and some are available on the cheap (which is to say used) at bargain prices from the usual online retail suspects like Amazon.

(Meanwhile, drop us a line and let us know what you're listening to.)
Bernstein Century - Copland: Appalachian Spring
(Leonard Bernstein and the N.Y. Philharmonic)

Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Copland (1900-1990) composed concert and film music that was uniquely American in the way it bridged modern symphonic and folk styles.

If you buy only one Copland album or want to test the waters before diving in head first, this is it. In addition to "Appalachian Spring," it includes orchestral suites from "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid," both collaborations for ballets with legendary choreographer Martha Graham.

Imaginary Voyage (Jean Luc Ponty)

I'm a sucker for jazz violin, whether it be Stefan Grappelli, grandmaster of the genre, or his disicples, who include Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Sugarcane Harris and Jean Luc Ponty.

Ponty played behind Frank Zappa before taking his distinctive blue electric violin and going solo with this knockout album. I find most late 1970s rock-jazz-fusion efforts to be lame, but this one soars.

Let It Be . . . Naked (The Beatles)

Opinionated SOB that I am, I still cannot make up my mind if I like this 2005 release of the truly original 1970 "Let It Be" more or less than the so-called "original," which was producer Phil Spector's grandiose orchestral and choral overdubs to several of the songs, as opposed to the bare bones versions in "Let It Be . . . Naked."

There's also a bonus disk of studio outtakes and ephemera that I've played only once. I'm a hardcore Beatles fan, but not that hardcore.

Live At Fillmore East / Eat a Peach
(The Allman Brothers)


As I noted in my post on the recently departed Phil Walden, rock and blues guitar lovers owe him an enormous debt for "discovering" Duane Allman. All of "Fillmore East" and half of "Peach" were recorded live at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in 1971 prior to Duane's death, and sharp earred afficionados will be aware of a cosmic connection between the two.

"Whipping Post," the last song on the 1972 "Fillmore" release, does not end, it merely fades out as Duane comps a few notes and then fires back up. The question of where he and the band went from there was answered the following year with the release of "Peach," highlighted by the 34-minute "Mountain Jam," which opens with the closing lines from "Whipping Post." It's hot. It's steamy. It's improvisational nirvana.
PREVIOUS KIKO'S HOUSE DISK PICKS
Burning Spear Live in Paris
Heavy Ornamentals (The Gourds)
Hymns to the Silence (Van Morrison)
One From the Vault (Grateful Dead)
Thelonius Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day Four: A Week Without Dubya

Well, we're halfway through our promised week without any posts on King George. This is proving to be a tad difficult given his sudden transformation from longtime fossil-fuel addict to (choke, choke) alternative energy champion. Oh, yeah, and we'll need to do away with those pesky clean-air regulations while we're weaning ourselves from Evil Oil. (More choking.)

In any event,
Kiko's House is not going to go entirely current events-free. Today we offer our distinctive take on several 9/11-related topics very much in the news, along with some other stuff.

Has Osama bin Laden Lost His Groove?

The controversial new movie “United 93” opened in U.S. theaters on Friday. This, of course, is the story of Osama bin Laden’s fourth team of Al Qaeda hijackers, who targeted the jetliner for the U.S. Capitol building before passengers forced them to fly it into a field in western Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.

That extraordinary drama tends to get overlooked when most of us summon up visions of 9/11 such as the flaming twin towers and the charred hole in one side of the Pentagon. Not me. As one of the comparatively few folks who did not follow that morning's apocalyptic events on a television, I intuited fairly quickly that the one jetliner that National Public Radio said was unaccounted for as the minutes ticked by was headed for the Capitol.

Recalling that thought, in turn, prompted another: Although our wounds are still raw four and a half years after 9/11, does Osama bin Laden -- the man whose incarnate evil looms over that aweful day -- still matter as much as he once did?

Of course he still matters, but I have to wonder how much after combing through his most recent audiotape, which was released on Al-Jazeera on Sunday.

It may be no coincidence that the triple terrorist attacks at an Egyptian resort came only a day after OBL's latest audiotape was aired and were followed by release of a videotape by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, OBL's main man in Egypt. While Al Qaeda has been hobbled and may no longer be capable of mounting coordinated attacks on the scale of 9/11 or even the American embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, we ignore the bearded one at our own risk.

Nevertheless, I found OBL's most recent pronouncement significant for what it did not say, as well as what it did.

WHAT OBL DIDN’T SAY

Al-Zarqawi did mock U.S. efforts in Iraq his videotape, but OBL was mum on what was Islamic terrorism's leading front against the westerns infidels not that long ago. A gleeful (perhaps too gleeful) TigerHawk offers his take on this omission:

First, al Qaeda tried to kill Americans, per bin Laden's orders. It largely failed. Then al Qaeda went after America's allies, and succeeded only in turning public opinion against itself in every Muslim country it attacked. After thirty months of battlefield defeats and political embarrassments, bin Laden won't even mention Iraq in one of his rare public utterances, and he rallies his troops to fight a war where American soldiers aren't. How humiliating. How delightful.
WHAT OBL DID SAY

Back in March, he had called on Palestinians to boycott the election won by Hamas. That edict was widely ignored, and he took another shot at the radical party in his latest statement. This prompted a rejoinder from Hamas to the effect that it no longer had anything in common with OBL.

He called on Muslims to go to the Sudan not to save victims of the genocide there but to wage holy war against United Nations peacekeeping forces. The Sudanese regime’s rejoinder was hypocritical to be sure, but it too told him to bug off. (Recall that OBL ended up in Afghanistan after he was booted from Sudan.)

The rest of OBL’s message was, I daresay, comical:

He wants those offending Danish cartoonists turned over to him. He wants Muslim “liberals” to be silenced. He wants Muslim TV stations to stop broadcasting “Crusader” propoganda. He wants the Saudi king to shut his yap about the so-called Clash of Civilizations. And he wants western governments to know that they erred in refusing to accept his earlier offer of a truce.

THE BIG SUM-UP

Al-Zarqawi's bravado notwithstanding, Osama bin Laden's failure to mention Iraq is significant and perhaps an acknowledgement that insurgents have been bettered by U.S. forces and/or eclipsed by sectarians militias who march to no drummer but their own.

What is beyond dispute is that OBL is increasingly out of step with and alienated from the very Muslim world that he purports to speak for.

I do not suggest that Hamas or the subjugators of the pitiful Darfur masses are an improvement over OBL, Al Qaeda or OBL’s onetime Taliban hosts. But the radical Muslim world -- and the Muslim world as a whole -- is moving on without the bearded one, who acts increasingly like a cranky old man in the mountain.

Hollywood Does 9/11

The trailer for the aforementioned "Flight 93" caused such upset that it was pulled from some theaters after patrons complained.

This prompted New York film critic David Edelstein to ask whether Hollywood should be in the 9/11 business and can it be trusted to deal with it responsibly.

Edelstein happens to think "Flight 93" is a good movie, which helps skew his answer to both questions to an emphatic yes:

It is never too soon for an artist to grapple with a national trauma and its repercussions in the collective psyche. Nearly five years have passed since 9/11, and the events of that day have permeated popular culture at all levels, from the inchoate yearnings of an English physician in Ian McEwan’s novel "Saturday," to the burgeoning rage of young terrorists in "Syriana," to the torture-first-fill-out-paperwork-later ethos of the hero in TV’s "24." Yes, depictions of 9/11 still dredge up emotions that are difficult to bear. But the process of framing and reframing the tragedy is vital to our healing. We will relive 9/11 anyway, in our nightmares. The best defense is to face it head-on. As Nietzsche wrote, “Dare to be tragic men, and ye shall be redeemed.”
REMEMBERING FATHER MIKE

Meanwhile, "Saint of 9/11" will have its world premiere tomorrow night at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. It will open in Philadelphia on May 5 before it goes into national distribution.

"Saint of 9/11" is a feature-length documentary about Father Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain. It is narrated in his own words by legendary actor Sir Ian McKellan.

Father Mike, as everyone called him, was the subject of one of my first Kiko’s House posts, which was written on the occasion of the pedophile coddling Vatican releasing an encyclical barring gay priests and gays who want to become priests.

I reprint part of the post here:

Father Mike was uptown at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he ministered to the wealthy and homeless alike, when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center . . . He donned his FDNY chaplain’s uniform and rushed to the towers, where he briefly paused to pray with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before running over to a dead firefighter and a woman who had fallen on him after jumping from the North Tower.

Father Mike had removed his fireman's helmet to administer the last rites and was anointing Firefighter Danny Suhr and the woman with holy water when he was struck in the back of the head and mortally wounded by a chunk of falling debris.

You may not realize that you know who Father Mike was until you reflect on the image above. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton's photograph, one of the most gripping images to come out of that horrific day, is a modern day Pietรก. Yes, that’s Father Mike on the makeshift gurney.

You probably also didn’t know that Father Mike was an acknowledged homosexual. And so beloved that his death certificate bears the number 00001 – the first official World Trade Center casualty.

But as inspiring as Father Mike’s life may have been, not to mention his bravery on 9/11, he would not have been welcome in today’s Roman Catholic Church, which according to its new policy believes that gays "have no social value" and, moreover, "no moral virtue."

That truly is a sin.

Quote du Jour

John Kerry speaks the words he was unable to summon as a presidential candidate:

The true defeatists today are not those who call for recognizing the facts on the ground in Iraq. The true defeatists are those who believe America is so weak that it must sacrifice its principles to the pursuit of illusory power.

The true pessimists today are not those who know that America can handle the truth about the Administration's boastful claim of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. The true pessimists are those who cannot accept that America's power and prestige depend on our credibility at home and around the world. The true pessimists are those who do not understand that fidelity to our principles is as critical to national security as our military power itself.

And the most dangerous defeatists, the most dispiriting pessimists, are those who invoke September 11th to argue that our traditional values are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Why Liberalizing World Trade Is An Oxymoron

Liberalizing world trade has always struck me as being an oxymoron. This is because what is good globally – for large nations and small, for industrialized nations and emerging third-world (*) nations – is inevitably trumped by capitalist greed, with nationalist greed a close second.

The Economist would never say as much, of course, but my point of view is lurking between the lines in a sobering article on how far we are from any semblance of a truly liberalized world trade.

Meanwhile, Amitai Etzioni, an intellectual without portfolio, argues at TPM Cafe that the goal should not be liberalizing trade, but rather free trade:
What we need is fair trade, in which the competition takes place on a level playing field. A tariff should be imposed on imports from nations that do not provide their workers with basic protection and benefits and do not treat the environment with a basic measure of responsibility. The moneys thus generated should be divided between helping the employees of these nations, and those who loose their jobs in the developed nations. Let’s have fair trade, not unprotected trade which is what free trade really is.
___________

(*) So what the heck is the third world? The term, which came into vogue in the 1960s as a way of helping differentiate between the West and Soviet bloc, referred to nations that need foreign aid to meet their most basic needs. The industrialized West was referred to as the first world and former Soviet Union and its satellites as the second world.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Day Three: A Week Without Dubya

As promised, there will be no posts on King George this week, although Kiko's House is not going to go entirely current events-free. Today's big hit is your picks for Worst Songs of All Time. Enjoy!

Blogging From the Top of the World

While the mainstream media struggles to get reports out on pro-democracy demonstrations in Nepal, bloggers are having a field day. The Guardian News Blog has more here, including links to some pretty shocking photos of police brutality.

An Invitation to Blog on Health Care in America

Year in and year out, reforming America's troubled health-care system is the biggest third rail issue in politics. No matter how you approach it and no matter how you want to fix it, you're going to get shocked.

I previously asked visitors to Kiko's House to guest blog on reforming the U.S. immigration system and for their comments on the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. I am now extending an invitation for you to share your views on how to fix health care.

A little background:
America spends far more for health care per capita than any other first world country.

Nearly 45 million Americans have no health-care insurance. A surprisingly large minority of this group are technically not poor.

Emergency rooms are groaning under huge loads because many patients don't have family physicians, let alone insurance.

Previous efforts at cobbling together a national health-care system have been disasters, although Massachusetts will begin experimenting with a new near-universal system beginning next year.

Pharmaceutical and insurance companies have a disproportionately powerful voice in any discussion about fixing health care.
And foreground:
Utterly absent in what discussion there is about health-care reform are the voices of the key players in the system after patients themselves -- nurses.

If you are a nurse or know one, you or they should step up and let the rest of us know what's really going on at hospitals -- which are ground zero in health care -- because there can be no reform until the problems there are fixed first.

I single out nurses because unlike the powerful physician, drug and insurance lobbies, they have no voice in the discussion. I know this for a number of reasons, including the fact that I owe my life to a nurse.
What do you think needs to happen to fix this mess?

Please limit your guest posts to 300-400 words and try to make them solution oriented. If you 're so inclined, tell share a little bit about yourself and your own health-care system experiences. Visitors to Kiko's House from outside the U.S. are welcome to contribute.

Please send your comments not directly to Kiko's House, but to

kikokimba@gmail.com

Anonymous posts are fine. Just make sure you let me know that you don't want your name or email used.

The deadline is the close of business on Tuesday, May 2. Until then, stay healthy.

How Many Retired Generals Does It Take . . .

An eighth retired general, Marine Lieut. Gen. Paul Van Riper, is calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's head.

The three-star general said on Fox News, of all places:
If this leader is not capable of doing it, now going in excess of five years, has not demonstrated he is, then perhaps it is time to find a new one. If I was the president, I would have relieved him three years ago.
Meanwhile, Brendan Miniter, a pinhead on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, tries to reduce the Rumself controversy to pablum-sized bites by writing that its just a bureaucratic turf battle.

Well that's a relief. Here I thought the whole thing was over the heart and soul of the American military and how to extricate the U.S. from Iraq with a modicum of dignity and without capitulating to the sectarian militias and insurgents.

Your Picks For the Worst Songs of All Time

The response to my post on The Worst Songs of All Time was kinda overwhelming. And big fun.

As the list below shows, the taste of Kiko's House visitors when it comes to bad taste is eclectic. There was very little overlap, although a conspicuous exception was Richard Harris's "MacArthur Park," which several visitors felt strongly should have been left out in the rain along with that cake:
MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down . . .
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!
Oh, no indeed!

Other multiple mentions included "I Got You Babe" (Sonny and Cher) and my own pick, "We Built This City" (Jefferson Starship). The only group or artist to have more than one song nominated was America for two hall of famers -- "The Horse With No Name" and "Muskrat Love."

Here's the list:
"Alice's Restaurant" (Arlo Guthrie)
"American Pie" (Don McLean)
"Billy Don't Be a Hero" (Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods)
"A Boy Named Sue" (Johnny Cash)
"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" (Looking Glass)
"Broken Wings" (Mister Mister)
"Convoy" (?)
"DOA" (Bloodrock)
"Do You Think I'm Sexy?" (Rod Stewart)
"Dropkick Me Jesus (Throught the Goalposts of Life) " (Bobby Bare)
"Elvira" (The Oakridge Boys)
"Hip To Be Square" (Huey Lewis & The News)
"Honey" (Bobby Goldsboro)
"The Horse With No Name" (America)
"I Am, I Said" (Neil Diamond)
"I Got You Babe" (Sonny and Cher)
"Inna Gadda Da Vida" (Iron Butterfly)
"I Will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor)
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Various Artists)
"MacArthur Park" (Richard Harris)
"Mellow Yellow" (Donovan)
"Midnight at the Oasis" (Maria Muldaur)
"Muskrat Love" (America)
"My Ding-a-Ling" (Chuck Berry)
"Okie From Muskogee" (Merle Haggard)
"Playground in My Mind" (Clint Holmes)
"The Night Chicago Died" (Paper Lace)
"Truckin'" (Grateful Dead)
"We Built This City (Jefferson Starship)
"The Wheels on the Bus" (Rafi)
"Wild Thing" (The Hardly Worthit Players)
"The Wreck of The Edmund Fitgerald" (Various Artists)
"You Better Run (Pat Benatar version)
"You're Having My Baby" (Paul Anka)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Remembering Lindsey Bonistall

I’ve covered a fair number of murders in my time, including the infamous Nicole Brown Simpson-Ron Goldman double homicide and subsequent trials, but Lindsey Bonistall was different than all of them.

Lindsey was a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Delaware. In a chilling instance of serendipity, she sat right in front of me when I guest lectured a journalism class at the university in late April of last year. Seventy-two hours later -- one year ago on Monday -- Lindsey was raped and strangled by a man who broke into her off-campus apartment and then set a fire to cover his tracks.

Few of the students that I lectured that afternoon seemed particularly engaged. It was gloriously sunny and most of their young minds were elsewhere, or they were busy surreptitiously text messaging on their cell phones. But I did notice Lindsey, who was attentive and took down my pearls of wisdom in a notebook. I learned later that her goal in life was to write “with purpose and passion,” as her father put it. I had told her classmates the same thing in sharing my blunt mantra for aspiring journos:

If you don't have purpose, passion and an insatiable curiosity, don't waste your time in journalism, because you'll just be wasting my time as a reader.

I did not realize that Lindsey was who she was until her photograph appeared with a newspaper story two days after her murder. I had a little boo-hoo when I made the connection that the young woman looking up at me from the paper was the same person. My tears were both for Lindsey and because I have a daughter the same age who also lives in an off-campus apartment, although at a faraway university.

Thank you with bearing with me, because I’m finally going to get to the point.

From all accounts, Lindsey was vivacious, had many friends and was a hard worker, but in the year since she left this mortal coil, she has accomplished more than she ever had been able to in her short life.

Lindsey was from White Plains in Westchester County, New York, which has sent many students to the University of Delaware over the years. Her parents, Kathleen and Mark Bonistall, could have dried their own tears and gone back to their daily routine after the funeral, but they have turned her passing into a crusade.

Kathleen and Mark are not interested in seeing Lindsey’s assailant fry. In fact, they are against the death penalty, which is what her shiftless, drug-abusing murderer likely faces upon conviction and many people no doubt believe he deserves.

No, the Bonistalls’ crusade is to remember Lindsey by helping others learn how they can live safer lives and to make sure that the university and Newark, the town in which it is situated, do their part.

(I indirectly played a role in the latter effort with a well timed interview with a local TV network news affiliate and well placed op-ed piece in the same newspaper that covered Lindsey’s murder. I’m told that both rattled some cages. My piece was headlined “Newark Hasn’t Faced It’s Ugly Reality,” a reference to the fact that Lindsey’s murder was only the latest, although certainly the most awful, crime in a wave of violent home invasions, muggings and other crimes that I believed had left town and campus police befuddled. I said much the same thing in the TV interview, which was recorded beneath the boarded up windows of Lindsey’s apartment.)

As a result of the encouragement of Kathleen and Mark Bonistall, their family and Lindsey's friends:

* The campus police have expanded their off-campus escort program. The number of rides given has doubled and the program may be expanded from three weekend days to seven.

* Five new officers have been added to the town police force, and there are said to be more foot patrols, although I see no evidence of that, which is unfortunate because there may be no more effective deterrent to crime than the visibility of officers walking a beat.

* The Newark rental market has gone through a welcome upheaval and because of safety concerns of potential renters. Some landlords have installed locks on windows, improved lighting and made other safety-related upgrades, and grant money has been made available to defray costs.

* A program to inspect off-campus housing has been instituted. Certified “safe” rentals will be posted on a new Web site.

The Bonistall family, with help and support from Lindsey’s friends, have created a group called PEACE OUTside Campus in conjunction with the Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation. There are chapters at the University of Delaware and University of Kentucky and they plan to go national with their campaign to make campus and college communities safety.

Nothing is going to bring Lindsey back, but Newark today arguably is a safer town and more like its once tranquil self because of Lindsey Bonistall, her family and friends. Bless their hearts.

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

There will be a memorial service for Lindsey Bonistall at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 on the Green on the University of Delaware campus.

Go here for a link to PEACE OUTside Campus and the Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation. To read a poem by Lindsay and a message from her family, go here. An obituary on her is here. And here is information on a scholarship fund established in her memory.

Day Two: A Week Without Dubya

As promised, there will be no posts on King George this week, although as is obvious below, Kiko's House is not going to go entirely current events-free.

Meanwhile, look for your Worst Songs of All Time picks here tomorrow.

We've Been Googled

Well, I was going to put up a link to a New York Times Magazine story on Google's China "problem," but I and fellow bloggers weren't able to post anything at all until early afternoon because of Google's "problem" with its unreliable Blogger software.

The second problem has now been fixed. Apologies for those of you who had to wait for your daily Kiko's House fix.

Support Your Iraq Blogger

Michael Totten is a cutting-edge journalist whom I mention often at Kiko's House because he's damned good and has chosen to fly more or less solo and well below the mainstream media radar. He's back from another journey through Northern Iraq and poses an interesting question about the future of his kind of journalism.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of putting up more links to more blogs pertaining to the Mess in Mestopotamia. Please support Michael and give the Blogs From & About Iraq listed below my profile a look see.

Homeland Security: Be Scared. Be Very Scared

There is a lot to be scared about in Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's declaration that the feds are going to crack down on illegal immigrants with techniques similar to those used to go after organized crime.

Why is this all so terribly misplaced and so very wrong?
Because while illegal immigration is a big problem, it is not the same problem as defending the homeland against commercial aircraft hijackers, dirty nuclear bomb assemblers, anthrax-enabled attackers and other terrorists through increased vigilance and infrastructure safeguards.

Going on five years after 9/11, that still should be the core mission of the Department of Homeland Security, not chasing down illegal aliens at Houston pallet manufacturing plants. As it is, DHS has failed miserably at that core mission.

The benchmark of that failure is DHS's systemic incompetence in the aftermath of one of Mother Nature's dirty bombs -- Hurricane Katrina. There is no evidence that things have gotten any better, only that DHS is in the thrall of what is euphemistically called "mission creep."
Furthermore, the crackdown on illegal immigrants is politically motivated insofar that it plays to a disenchanted right-wing Republican base that supports criminalizing immigration. A House passed "reform" bill would do just that. Criminalization provisions were stripped from the Senate version of the bill before it became hopelessly bogged down on the entire issue earlier this month.

Be scared for real homeland security. Be very scared.

Another Big Blow Down Under

Australia is about to get whacked by yet another powerful cyclone in a repetition reminiscent of the 2005 U.S. Gulf Coast hurricane season.

Cyclone Monica, the most powerful to close in on the Antipodes in years, is bearing down on the northern coast of Arhhem Land in Australia's far north. The good news is that the area is sparsely populated. The bad news is that there are scattered Aboriginal communities, not all of which have cyclone shelters.

Monica's winds are peaking at around 200 miles per hour.

Mary McCarthy and the Cretan Paradox

I suppose that I should be more exercised over the dismissal of CIA employee Mary McCarthy for leaking sensitive information on the CIA's secret prisons and use of torture therein to the Washington Post.

Here's why I'm not:

What McCarthy did in blowing the whistle was illegal. What the Postdid in publishing its Pulitzer Prize-winning expose was right. The two are not incompatible. National security was trumped by the public's right to know of illegal government activities. These two also are not incompatible. It's American democracy in all its messiness. So there.

And while I'm not keeping score, I suspect McCarthy will come out of this mess looking better than the people who condoned the prisons and use of torture in the first place.

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has this to say:
Here's the problem as I see it. The leaky and politicized intelligence system has made it difficult to judge the truth value of any proposition. Did the Plame affair damage national security? Did Ms. McCarthy's actions damage national security? Is there someone lying dead in a gutter because somebody talked? The answer to those questions about the intelligence agencies is going to be answered by the intelligence agencies themselves. And so we come full circle to the modern version of the Cretan Paradox: which asserts that when a Cretan says 'all Cretans are liars' all logical roads lead to a contradiction. How then to know the truth about the lies? When intelligence agencies -- and I use that word broadly to encompass the press, which is the civilian intelligence system -- are politicized, then even our knowledge about our knowledge becomes uncertain. We are in a Wilderness of Mirrors indeed. . . . in Washington politics, like the gravitational field of a massive Black Hole, distorts everything. In regions sufficiently close to the political event horizon truth and facts simply cease to exist.

Quote du Jour

The Duke lacrosse team assault case is much in the news. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick hits the nail on the head in noting that:

The . . . scandal cuts too deeply into this country's most tender places: race and class and gender. It reaffirms everyone's deep-seated, unspoken fear that black women/white men/poor people/privileged people/victims/ defendants can't get a fair shake under our legal system. This case will be chewed over, regurgitated, and chewed over again by television pundits unafraid of venturing opinions in no way informed or changed by the rapidly changing public facts.

It's easy to have doubts about the ability of the courts to resolve cases like this one when you stop to consider that long after the court proceedings, hearings, and investigations ended, we still have no idea what really happened between Kobe Bryant and his accuser, between Michael Jackson and his accuser, between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. If these legal processes are intended to be searches for the truth, why is there never any truth at the conclusion?

Part of the answer is that some truths are unknowable. Subtle distinctions between consensual sex and date rape, between coercion and force, between silences that sound like "yes" and silences that sound like "stop," are difficult for the parties themselves to work out. How can a juror really divine what went on in the mind of another person?

"Desert One' Told Again For the First Time

When I ran into Mark Bowden a few weeks ago, he said he was working on an ambitious piece for The Atlantic. It is ambitious indeed -- a gripping account of Desert One, the 1980 Delta Force-led mission to free the American hostages being held in Teheran that went horribly awry.

Bowden's piece is meticulously researched and beautifully written and The Atlantic has done a bang-up job of posting it online along with a bunch of cool interactive sidebars. It is, in short, a must read.

Hear Here For Good Beer

Joe Sixpack has the unenviable task of having to labor as a beer writer for a living. Can't you just feel his pain?

Anyhow, my award-winning friend has launched his own nifty website here.

Is General Motors' Fate Sealed?

Regular visitors to Kiko's House are well aware of my ongoing interest in General Motors' death spiral. I've blogged at length about the chronic inability of this onetime colossus to get its act together, most recently and at length in an April 4 post, Update on General Motors: Still Clueless.

If you think I'm tough on GM, check out Robert Farago at The Truth About Cars, which is a terrific website for auto industry news, reviews and insight. Farago has been writing a series of commentaries titled General Motors Death Watch and he's now up to No. 68. It's a lulu. Meanwhile, CNNMoney.com offers its take here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Announcing a Week Without Dubya

Fillmore Closing Week Poster (David Sanger, 1972)
As I noted last week, we need to lighten up here at Kiko's House.

That notion came to me as I was looking out a window at the plum tree that fills much of the front yard of Kiko's House. I had just composed a really long and really serious post on King George.

It's spring here and the plum is a scarlet, pink and white feast for the eyes, as well as a perfect visual for remembering that there is more to life -- and blogging -- than nattering endlessly about our atrocious president. This in turn leads me to announce (as drums roll and trumpets blare) . . .

A WEEK AT KIKO'S HOUSE WITHOUT DUBYA!!!

. . . That's right, no posts whatsoever on King George. (See * below for exceptions.)

Mind you, Kiko's House is not going to go current events-free for the next week. Nosiree. But we'll make an effort to leaven our loaf a little, including a run-down of the all-time favorite worst songs selected by visitors who responded to my Friday post. Look for it early in the week.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the photo I posted last Sunday of the real Kiko and myself was a big hit. (Okay, Kimba commented on it.) So we're going to start a tradition of posting a kitty photo each Sunday at Kiko's House.

Today's kitty photo is part of David Singer's 1972 poster commemorating the closing of Bill Graham's legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco. If you look closely at the black and white photo montage, there are two kitties and one of them is dancing on a sleeping dog. (For a larger image, click here.)

Besides kitties, I know a thing or three about Graham, Singer and the Fillmore.

Bill Graham was an extraordinary rock impressario who booked hundreds of bands and solo acts into his Fillmore Ballroom (later the Fillmore West) Winterland. Graham had a nasty temper, but a heart of gold. The one time I met him he was busy picking up litter in the lobby of Winterland, a habit that he never broke even when fame and fortune came his way.

Graham drew on San Francisco's art community to commission a poster for each of the 287 concerts or concert series he put on from 1968 until the Fillmore West closed in July 1972 with a blowout that included the Grateful Dead, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Creedence Clearwater Revival, It's a Beautiful Day, Boz Scaggs, and on and on and on.

The artists commissioned by Graham included David Singer, as well as Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Kelly and Mouse. Singer did the closing week poster, which was double the size of the standard BG (Bill Graham) poster.

The closing week poster is referred to as BG-287 by collectors like myself and is one of the more sought after in the red hot San Francisco psychedelic poster market. (BG-105, a Fillmore poster nicknamed "The Flying Eye" that was done by Griffin and autographed by Jimi Hendrix recently sold for $20,000. Not bad considering that these posters originally were stapled to utility polls all over the Bay Area. To see BG-105, click here.)

BG-287 is one of my favorites and hangs in the living room at Kiko's House.

It is a rare (although by no means 20 grand rare) first edition. Virtually all copies of the closing week poster being sold and traded today were printed for the "Fillmore Closing Week" record album. These posters were doubled folded to fit in the album, while my unfolded first edition was given to me as a going away gift by Ben Friedman, a sweetheart of a curmudgeon who ran the legendary Postermat around the corner from where I lived in North Beach in San Francisco many moons ago.

Anyhow, please enjoy A Week Without Dubya. I promise that we'll make up for his absence the week after.

-- Peace and Love, SHAUN
___________

(*) This offer is good for one week only. This offer is void in the event of a Catagory Five news event involving the king or his court. This offer is void in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, American Samoa and other areas where the absence of any discussion about the abject state of the American presidency is illegal. All others pay cash.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Science Saturday I: The FDA Blows It on Marijuana

Medical marijuana felon and abetting wife (ca. 1978)
Politics has again trumped science as the U.S. Food and Administration announced this week there is no evidence that medical marijuana is helpful. I'm going to suggest that the FDA didn't talk to my father, but we'll get to him in a little later.

Susan Bro, a FDA spokeswoman, said the statement resulted from a combined review by federal drug enforcement, regulatory and research agencies that had concluded "smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment."

The statement directly contradicts a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific advisory agency. That review found marijuana to be
moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.
Eleven states have legalized medical use of marijuana, most as a result of voter initiatives. But the Drug Enforcement Administration has opposed those laws and a Supreme Court decision last year allowed the feds to arrest anyone using marijuana, even for medical purposes and even in states that have legalized its use. (See also my April 20 post on SCOTUS and Flip-Flopping on States' Rights.)

The statement was vague and poorly documented, exactly what you would not expect from an agency charged with assuring rigorous testing standards, but then the FDA under the Bush administration has drifted far from the shore, so the laissez faire attitude is not unexpected.

The FDA statement disingenuously added that those state initiatives were "inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the F.D.A. approval process." Disingenuous because it's no secret that the government has actively discouraged research by scientists who want to study marijuana's medical use.

The government action was the latest iteration of a perverse American socio-political dynamic that shows no sign of changing:
Dangerous substances like cigarettes and alcohol are widely available and widely abused, but marijuana is taboo although it is comparatively harmless and has medical benefits.
Said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for California's attorney general, of the FDA statement:
It's consistent with the long-held federal view on this medicine, and that is that marijuana is the equivalent of heroin and cocaine. California voters disagree.
Me too.

Added the New York Times in an editorial:

[T]he F.D.A. statement, which was drafted with the help of other federal agencies that focus on drug abuse, . . . argues that state laws permitting the smoking of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation are inconsistent with ensuring that all medications undergo rigorous scrutiny in the drug approval process.

That seems disingenuous. The government is actively discouraging relevant research . . . It's obviously easier and safer to issue a brief, dismissive statement than to back research that might undermine the administration's inflexible opposition to the medical use of marijuana.

* * * * *

About my father, who is standing with my mother in the photo above, which hangs in a place of honor at Kiko's House. That's not a marijuana cigarette he's holding, but:
After he began chemotherapy for lung cancer many years ago, I made arrangements to have a little package of marijuana cigarettes sent to my mother. She stored them in the Frigidaire and doled them out to my father when his chemo-induced nausea was especially awful.

My father died before he had hardly made a dent in the package, but the cigarettes were a great source of relief for a gentle man who wouldn't hurt a soul but was then -- and still would be considered -- a criminal by the government of his beloved U.S. of A.
Reefer madness indeed!

Science Saturday II: Avian Flu

The startling spread of avian flu across much of the globe has stirred fears of a human pandemic.

Now comes Science magazine, which in a special report lays out what is known about the bird flu, including its spread through an unseen migratory bird network. The report notes that humans and other mammals can be infected, but only with some difficulty.

Not exactly reasurring, eh?

Science Saturday III: Bigger Than T Rex

What would Science Saturday be without a tall dinosaur tale?

This one is a lulu, or rather a Mapusaurus roseae.

Traces of this newly found dinosaur species, one of the largest known carnivores and bigger than the fabled Tyranosaurus rex, has been located in Patagonia, where reptilian giants seem to have thrived 100 million years ago.

A bone analysis bones showed that an adult exceeded 40 feet in length.

The New York Times has more here.

Science Saturday IV: NASA Goes Mum

NASA is being hush hush about the failure of two spacecraft to rendezvous in what would have been the first such maneuver without human involvement.

The agency plans to release a summary of why the DART spacecraft did not complete its mission last year, but the full 70-page document contains details protected by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a NASA spokesman said. Hmm.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in April 2005, the 800-pound Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology spacecraft successfully located the Pentagon satellite it was to rendezvous with and flew within 300 feet of it. The project ended prematurely, however, when the spacecraft shut down halfway into the 24-hour mission and failed to complete several automated tasks, including circling the satellite and making close approaches.

The $110 million project was meant to test whether robots can perform some of the tasks astronauts currently must do. Such advancements could lead to the robotic delivery of cargo to space stations and automated docking and repair between spacecraft.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Worst Songs of All Time

Looking back at the posts this week at Kiko’s House, it occurs to me that I need to lighten up.

Now.

Having bloviated at length on possibly the worst president of all time, what better way to put aside the Sturm und Drang of current events by reprising a golden oldie of mine -- the Worst Song of All Time.

My vote has long gone to Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City,” which was a No. 1 hit in 1985. But half the fun of hating a song is to see how many other folks agree or disagree with you, or what their own picks are.

As it is, the Starship’s blasphemy shows up on a fair number of Worst Song lists, including Todd Leopold’s.

Leopold writes a pretty fair entertainment column for CNN and cast his vote this week for a song in my own Worst Top 10 – “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, which not only was a No. 1 hit in 1968 but stayed atop the charts for five weeks. Barf!!! (Like me, Leopold avoids the low hanging fruit and only selects songs that were hits.)

Leopold describes what it was like to hear “Honey” recently on XM’s 60’s channel:

I sat transfixed in my car as it played, as if I were in the midst of an accident. The simpering melody, the tearjerking lyrics: God, how I hated it. And yet I couldn't change the station.

See the tree, how big it's grown
But friend, it hasn't been too long, it wasn't big . . .

We should all feel his pain.

Beyond “We Built This City” and “Honey,” the rest of my own Worst Top 10 are, in no particular order:

“In the Ghetto” (Mac Davis)

"Achy Breaky Heart" (Billy Ray Cyrus)

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (William Shatner)

“Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love in My Tummy)” (Ohio Express)

“In the Year 2525” (Zager and Evans)

“Afternoon Delight” (Starland Vocal Band)

“Your Body is a Wonderland” (John Mayer)

. . . and anything by Celine Dion.

Don't be shy. Tell me how would you vote buy clicking on the "Comment" button below. You can be an Anonymoose and don't have to give your name. And try to confine yourself to songs from the last 40 or so years. Thanks!