Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gone In 2009 But Not Forgotten

Wayne Allwine: The voice of Mickey Mouse passes.
Dee Anthony: From the Bronx to British rock power broker.

Army Archerd:
Show biz loses one of its defining voices.

Ayatollah Montazeri: A plain-spoken Iranian reformer.
Bob Bogle: Influential guitarist of the influential Ventures.

Norman Borlaug:
He helped teach the world how to feed itself.

Raymond A. Brown: A civil rights lawyer with controversial clients.

David Carradine: Bam. Swat. Boom. Bang. Dong.

Marilyn Chambers: From selling laundry detergent to selling porn.

Luke Cole: An environmental justice pioneer.

Earl Cooley: The original smoke jumper.

Chris Connor: She had a voice of great emotional intensity.

Walter Cronkite: A plain-spoken grace as the most trusted man in America.

Merce Cunningham: He made dance a major art form.

John "Marmaduke" Dawson: Voice of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Jim Dickinson: He helped make Memphis a music hot spot.

Dominick Dunne: He famously covered the O.J. Simpson and other celebrity

Marek Edelman: The last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Natalia Estemirova: Another Russian hu
man rights worker is gunned down.

Vincent "Tarta" Ford: An inspiration for and co-writer with Bob Marley.

John Hope Franklin: The scholar as social activist.

Ellie Greenwich: She wrote the soundtrack of my youth.

Bonnie Clark Haldemann: David Koresh's mother a victim of matricide.

Don Hewitt: He changed the course of broadcast news.

Mahlon Hoagland: His co-discovery of RNA unlocked the mysteries of DNA.

Janet Jagan: From Chicago nurse to president of Guyana.

Jim Johnson: Defensive genius.

Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson: An innovative reggae composer and producer.

Harry Kalas: The legendary voice of the Philadelphia Phillies is silenced.

Edward "Ted" Kennedy:
For some people, he always will be a rich drunk, but he did great good.

Kiki: One of the world's oldest animals passes on.

Irving Kristol: Perhaps the most influential conservative commentators of our age.

Danny LaRue: He took cross dressing to a wider public.

Drake Levin: A teen idol of the mid-1960s.

Irving R. Levine: He made the economy understandable.

John Martyn:
His marriage of folk and jazz was sublime.

Ekaterina Maximov: Curtains for the Bolshoi Ballet star.

Frank McCourt: A retired schoolteacher with a late-in-life literary career.

Patrick McGoohan: Number Six is a prisoner no more.

Tim McKernan: "Barrel Man" goes to the Great End Zone in the Sky.

Robert McNamara:
His candid reflections on his Vietnam War role
exploded on the haunted members of my generation like a long forgotten Claymore mine.

Al Martino:
One of the great Italian American pop crooners.

Father Richard Neuhaus: A religious and social conservative to his core.

Les Paul: He pioneered the solid-body electric guitar. And much more.

Officer John Pawlowksi: The sixth Philadelphia cop to be killed in 16 months.

Irving Penn: Classical elegance and cool minimalism in photography.

Billy Powell: He survived the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash only to die in bed.

Kenny Rankin:
His easygoing style
straddled pop, jazz and folk.

Natasha Richardson: A
glamorous celebrity with the bloodline of theater royalty.

Harrison Ridley Jr.: He had the historical approach to the positive music.

Soupy Sales: Here's a pie in your eye, America.

Paul A. Samuelson: The foremost academic economist of the 20th century.

Hale Smith: He effortlessly mixed classical music and jazz.

W.D. Snodgrass:
The Pulitzer Prize winning poet writes his last verse.

Claude Lévi-Strauss: He found that "primitive man" was one complex dude.

Helen Suzman: An often lonely voice for change among South Africa's white minority.

Patrick Swayze: A snake-hipped charmer and romantic lead.

Koko Taylor: A Chicago blues icon who opened the door to other woman singers.

Dr. George Tiller: Assassinated for what he believe in.

Mary Travers: Now it's just Peter and Paul.

Howard Unruh: He shot dead
13 people, three of them children, in a 20-minute emotionless stroll.

John Updike: Extraordinary writing about ordinary people.

Shem Walker: An Army veteran dies in a freak murder.

Bill Werber: The itinerant third baseman had a golden glove.

Collin Wilcox: Ubiquitous, but best known for her To Kill a Mockingbird role.

David "Pop" Winans: A great gospel patriarch.

Eric Woolfson: The Alan Parsons Project co-founder's last performance.

Cartoon du Jour

Tony Auth/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Jozef Krajco

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The United States Congress At Work: Dysfunction, Datfunction & Malfunction

The dysfunctionality of the U.S. Congress is the flavor of the moment, as well it should be. How bad have things gotten?

Robert Stein
at Connecting the Dots:
With all due respect to a President who started out proposing serious reform and for too long watched it being torn apart by Congressional hacks, after the passage of this bill, the system will still work better for the health insurance industry -- and the greediest of providers -- than it does for the American people.
Jacob Hacker at The New Republic:
As weak as it is in numerous areas, the Senate bill contains three vital reforms. First, it creates a new framework . . . through which people who lack secure workplace coverage can obtain the same kind of group health insurance that workers in large companies take for granted. Second, it makes available hundreds of billions in federal help to allow people to buy coverage through exchanges and through an expanded Medicaid program. Third, it places new regulations on private insurers that, if properly enforced, will reduce insurers’ ability to discriminate. . . . These are signal achievements, and they all would have been politically unthinkable just a few years ago.
Dick Polman at American Debate:
Now that the Senate Democrats have reportedly secured the requisite 60 votes to foil a GOP filibuster and pass health care reform, the Republicans seem poised to fail in their stalwart attempt to stand athwart history and deny Americans the fundamental rights that are available in every other advanced western democracy. Surely there must be something dramatic that the Republicans can still do -- set fire to their Senate desks? call in a bomb scare? hire Joe the Plumber to flood the toilets? -- because it's clear at this point that the parliamentary options are dwindling fast.
Jonathan Chait at The Plank:
The United States is on the doorstep of comprehensive health care reform. It's a staggering achievement, about which I'll have more to say later. but the under-appreciated thing that strikes me at the moment is that it never would have happened if the Republican Party had played its cards right.
BooMan at the Booman Tribune:
The bill itself is not bad. It only looks bad when compared to what we should have done, which is either abolish the private health insurance industry or regulate it like a power or water utility. On the merits, this bill should be passed. The politics are more complicated. Would a failure to pass anything be more damaging than a bill that too many people don't like? One of the dangers of the current bill is that a lot of people won't see their benefit until 2014. Another danger is that the subsidies won't make mandated insurance affordable.
Steve Benen at Political Animal:
[W]hile filibuster abuse distorts the nature of the legislative process, the current circumstances also skew expectations -- Republicans have almost entirely excised moderates from their ranks, and voters have handed Democrats a huge majority. Whereas a 60-vote majority used to reflect widespread support for a bill, we're now told a 60-vote majority is wholly inadequate -- or in [David] Gergen's words, a "tragedy."The standard has become badly distorted. It's not the Democrats' fault Republicans have become too conservative, failed at governing, and were punished by voters. And it's certainly not Democrats' fault Republicans would rather obstruct than govern, reflexively rejecting anything the majority seeks.
Paul Krugman in The New York Times:
Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option — not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.
Jill at Feministe:
Democrats reportedly have the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster on health care reform. Those votes, though, came with 400 pages of "compromise," which include everything from scaling back reproductive rights to a nice neat check written to the state of Nebraska to buy Ben Nelson's vote. The women's health compromise essentially kicks the issue to the states -- it keeps the Hyde Amendment intact across the board, and allows states to scale back abortion coverage even further if they choose. It's better than Stupak, but it still really, really sucks.
Dr. Timothy Jost at Health Affairs:
Once it is adopted, the Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the House bill. While the insurance provisions of the Senate bill have real strengths -- their transparency provisions for example -- the bill also has, from my perspective, great weaknesses. The two most significant, I believe, are its four-year delay in implementation date and its dependence on the states to enact and enforce the federal reforms.
David Frum at Frum Forum:
It would be premature to say conservatives have lost this fight. There's still hope. But it grows faint . . . and our own miscalculations explain much of why.
Allahpundit at Hot Air:
If Obamacare, on its own terms or as implicated in approaching fiscal catastrophe, remains anywhere near as unpopular over the coming years as it is now, there is no fundamental reason why it can’t be rescinded -- piece by piece or all at once. I therefore remain convinced that the proper response by conservatives to its passage cannot and must not be despair -- certainly not yet, certainly not while a popular wave against the prime perpetrators is rising, and not while the tools of democratic self-government are still within reach.
Alex Pareene at Gawker:
It is nice, really, to have billions of dollar for uninsured people to afford insurance, and the new regulations are long overdue. But christ, the country is pretty broken, right? 2010 is going to be fun! There will be like three more of these year-long soul-destroying battles over every little thing!
Images by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

This thermal spring at Yellowstone National Park is richly
by growths of exotic heat-loving micro-organisms.

Photograph by Paul D. Stewart/BBC Earth

Monday, December 21, 2009

You Know That Society Is Doomed . . .

When Democrats excoriate President Obama for keeping a campaign promise.
When elite colleges try to market themselves as Hogwarts.
When a shopping mall is evacuated when a man dressed as an elf tells Santa that he has dynamite.
When a Republican congressman accuses Democrats of being rapists like Roman Polanski.
When people who shouldn't have gun permits go off half-cocked and kill people. Lots of people.

When $1,500 worth of marijuana is accidentally donated to a Goodwill store.

When a 74-year-old Wal-Mart greet is punched in the kisser.

When Mike Huckabee doesn't stand a chance of being prezdent because he's too nice a guy.

When a man is charged with assaulting his sister with a microwaved pecan pie.

When a woman who was taken to a hospital in an ambulance decides she doesn't want to be there and steals the ambulance to make her exit.

When phone books become obsolescent.

When the president hates Christmas so much that he schedules a major prime-time speech on Afghanistan opposite Charlie Brown's Christmas.

When Chuck E. Cheese brawls are so common that they're hardly newsworthy.

When a woman goes in for an oil change and comes out with a new car.

When a 13-year-old girl hides her 19-year-old Facebook pal in a closet for two days after they have sex.

When a leading right-wing blogger refuses to go over the cliff with the Republican lemmings.

When a college's Great Dane mascot costume is returned after being stolen -- but is neutered.

When a man is beaten with a squeegee during a gas-pump incident.

When Jesus keeps showing up on all kinds of things.

When 30 Republican senators -- all men (natch) -- get all whiny when it is pointed out that they voted against a measure to withhold defense contracts from companies that restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault cases to court.

When a woman has a panic attack after seeing a sorority sister who hazed her.

When a man who thought he was a ninja is impaled by a metal fence.

When a love-struck deer loses a head butt with a lawn ornament.

When drug makers (legally) pay the competition to prevent them from marketing cheaper generic varieties of their expensive drugs.

When a man is jailed after calling 9-1-1 and asking for sex.

When the ghostwriter for a really famous political personage's autobio fabricates quotes and attributes them to Plato and Aristotle.

Click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for previous installments of You Know Society Is Doomed. Hat tip to Obscure Store for many of the links.

Cartoon du Jour

Scott Santis/Chicago Tribune

Top 10 Animal Stories Of The Decade


Ayatollah Montazeri (1922-2009)

Photograph by James Hill for The New York Times

Sunday, December 20, 2009

'Now He Belongs To The Ages'

Last of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
As soon as it was clear that instant death would not occur, the President was moved from the crowded [Ford's] theater. Some wanted to take him to the White House, but Dr. Leale warned that he would die if jostled on the rough streets of Washington. They decided to carry him across Tenth Street to a house owned by William Petersen, a merchant-tailor. There he was taken to a small, narrow room at the rear of the first floor. Because Lincoln was so tall, his body could not fit on the bed unless his knees were elevated. Finding that the foot of the bedstead could not be removed or broken off, the doctors placed him diagonally across the mattress, resting his head and shoulders on extra pillows. Though he was covered by an army blanket and a colored wool coverlet, his extremities grew very cold, and the physicians ordered hot-water bottles.

Here Lincoln lay for the next nine hours. . . . Mary was with her husband through the long night. Frantic with grief, she sat at his bedside, calling on him to say one word to her, to take her with him. When Robert came in with Senator Sumner, he saw what desperate shape his mother was in and sent for Elizabeth Dixon -- wife of Connecticut Senator James Dixon -- who was perhaps Mary's closest friend in the capital. Mrs. Dixon persuaded her to retire to the front room of the Petersen house, where she rested as well as she could, returning every hour to her husband's side. Once when Lincoln's breathing became very stertorous, Mary, who was approaching exhaustion, became frightened, leapt up with a piercing cry, and fell fainting on the floor. Coming in from the adjoining room, Stanton called out loudly, "Take that woman out and do not let her in again."

. . . Stanton immediately started an investigation of the assassination, taking testimony from witnesses, ordering all bridges and roads out of the capital closed, and directing the military to search for the murderers. By dawn he had a massive manhunt under way.

As the night of April 14-15 wore on, Lincoln's pulse became irregular and feeble, and his respiration was accompanied by a guttural sound. Several times it seemed that he had ceased breathing. Mary was allowed to return to her husband's side, and, as Mrs. Dixon reported, "she again seated herself by the President, kissing him and calling him every endearing name." As his breath grew fainter and fainter, she was led back into the front room. At twenty-two minutes past seven, on the morning of April 15, the struggled ended, and the physicians came in to inform her: "It is all over! The President is no more!"

In the small, crowded back room there was silence until Stanton asked Dr. Gurley to offer a prayer. Robert gave way to overpowering grief, leaning on Sumner for comfort. Standing at the foot of the bed, his face covered with tears, Stanton paid tribute to his fallen chief: With a slow and measured movement, his right arm fully extended as if in a salute, he raised his hat and placed it for an instant on his head and then in the same deliberate manner removed it. "Now," he said, "he belong to the ages."

An Index To Abraham Lincoln Posts

Throughout the year, Kiko's House has celebrated the bicentenary of Abraham Lincoln's birth with posts and book excerpt son the greatest of American presidents. Here are the highlights:

OH HE OF LITTLE FAITH (12/13) Beyond Lincoln's opposition to slavery there was no aspect of him more controversial than his spiritual bona fides. LINK
ON BLACKS & SLAVERY (12/6) Lincoln's metamorphosis from a frontiersman who always opposed slavery but like most white Americans felt that blacks were unequal into the Great Emancipator was as complex as the man himself. LINK
YES, OBAMA LOVES LINCOLN, BUT . . . (11/22) Barack Obama has made no secret of his admiration for Lincoln. Yet it is a surprise that the Republican punditocracy is using less lofty accomplishments of the patron saint of their party to tar the president. LINK
THE COLLECTED WISDOM (11/15) The first entry is boyish doggerel, while the second is the last thing that Lincoln wrote. In between are 4,450 pages of virtually everything else that he wrote. LINK
THE SPYMASTER & THE REBEL RAMS (11/8) While the tide began to turn against the Confederacy after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, it was a forgotten foreign-policy coup engineered by the Lincoln administration that arguably sealed an eventual Union victory. LINK
'AND THE GREAT STAR EARLY DROPP'D' (11/1) The great poet Walt Whitman's admiration for Lincoln bordered on a fixation. LINK
THE COMPLEXITIES OF MRS. LINCOLN (10/25) History has not been particularly kind to Mary Todd Lincoln and it's not difficult to understand why. LINK

(10/18) Lincoln had vowed to never use African-Americans in the Union Army, but that finally changed in advance of the Emancipation Proclamation LINK

(10/11) Lincoln was a superb railroad lawyer before he became a superb president, so it should come as no surprise that the American rail network grew during his four years in office not despite the Civil War but because of it. LINK
BRILLIANT, HUMANE & RUTHLESS (10/4) More recent authors have disputed Lincoln's brilliance as commander in chief. Military affairs expert Eliot A. Cohen says that they're wrong. LINK

(9/27) Lincoln knew virtually nothing about Native American affairs, an ignorance driven by the commonly held view that the U.S. government should disenfranchise Indians of their land because they were barbarians. LINK
'HIS AMBITION WAS AN ENGINE THAT KNEW NO REST' (9/20) Historian Richard Shenkman debunks several Lincoln myths. LINK
HOLLYWOOD'S OBSESSION WITH LINCOLN'S LOVES (9/13) The great man -- and his loves -- have been played by an eclectic range of actors and actresses over the last century. LINK.

THE MONITOR-MERRIMACK SHOWDOWN (8/30) The battle between the ironclads settled nothing but did change navies forever. LINK

(8/23) Lincoln's Cooper Union speech was probably his finest. Yes, greater than the Gettysburg Address. LINK

WAS HE DISHONEST ABE? (8/9) Historian-economist Thomas DiLorenzo says that scholars criticize Lincoln at their own risk, but there is plenty of bad about the man along with the good. LINK

THE TRENT AFFAIR (8/2) In 1861, Lincoln had little to do with foreign affairs. This myopia was to exacerbate a crisis early in his presidency that could have transformed the war into an international conflict. LINK
COMPLEX & IMPERFECT (7/26) Historian Edna Medford argues that we do better for Lincoln and for the nation -- and for understanding of the Civil War -- if we view him in all of his complexity. LINK
THE BOOK THAT CHANGED LINCOLN & AMERICA (7/19) Uncle Tom's Cabin shook the U.S. like an earthquake when it was published in 1852. LINK

SLAVE COLONIES (7/12) Lincoln believed that he found a way to deal with the problems caused by slavery in sending blacks back to Africa to colonize Liberia, but hee was wrong. LINK
A TRUE GENIUS (6/28) Historian Shelby Foote says that there has never been a president who functioned like Lincoln did, and despite having no executive experience, he was a miracle at it. LINK
(6/21) Historian Harold Holzer leads an intimate walk-through of the very different presidential mansion of Lincoln's time. LINK

EVEN LINCOLN NEEDED A GOOD EDITOR (6/14) Guest blogger Michael Reynolds imagines how the Gettysburg Address might have turned out had the president had a good editor. LINK

MOST HANDS-ON COMMANDER IN CHIEF (6/7) The outcome of the Civil War in all likelihood would have been different had Lincoln not cajoled, taken over for and in some cases dismissed the generals who lacked his vision and courage. LINK

A SKIMPIER RESUME WOULD BE HARD TO FIND (5/31) David Herbert Donald, the recently deceased Lincoln biographer, writes that an inexperienced chief executive can cause the country immense heartbreak, but that with time and good common sense can grow into greatness. LINK
NOW ALIEN TO THE REPUBLICAN PARTY (5/11) Pete Abel writes in a two-part guest blog that while there are a few common traits between Lincoln and today's GOP, the differences are far more substantial. PART 1, PART 2
THE ASSASSINATION (4/22, 4/29, 5/4) It is rather amazing that so little is known about basic aspects of the assassination of John F. Kennedy while there is virtually no aspect of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln a century earlier that remains a mystery. PART 1, PART 2, PART 3

(4/5) It took fewer than three minutes to deliver the famous speech, but it was an afterthought on the day it was given and remained so into the next century. LINK
HOW VALID THE COMPARISONS? (3/29) With the nomination and election of Barack Obama, the comparisons to Abraham Lincoln have come fast, thick and furious. But do they hold up? LINK

A PATENTLY CLEVER PRESIDENT (3/22) That Lincoln was the only president to get a U.S. patent is not surprising when you consider that he was an inveterate tinkerer and had a lifelong fascination with mechanical things. LINK
A PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR ON LINCOLN (3/15) A wide-ranging interview with James Hilty on Lincoln's greatness, frailties and innate conservatism. LINK
A BUMPY RIDE TO HIS REWARD (3/8) There was a controversy over a photograph taken of Lincoln's open coffin, an attempt to steal his corpse and his body was exhumed an extraordinary 17 times. LINK
WAS THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR GAY? (3/1) No revisionist history of a famous person would be complete without a book on whether they were gay, or if they were gay whether they were bisexual, or if they . . . LINK

PRESIDENTIAL POWER GRABS (2/22) The infringements by Lincoln on civil liberties arguably were greater than during any period in American history, including the last eight years. LINK
EARLY ASSASSINATION PLOT (2/15) A March 1861 assassination plot was never carried out, but Lincoln's response to it sullied a carefully cultivated image of dignified courage. LINK

(2/8) Beyond Lincoln's opposition to slavery there was no aspect of him more controversial than his spiritual bona fides. LINK

THE BOHEMIAN BRIGADE COMES THROUGH (2/1) Modern journalism can trace its roots to the Civil War, which because of the telegraph and steam locomotive was the first instant-news war, something of which Lincoln was very much aware. LINK

LINCOLN'S CAUTION (1/18) Guest blogger Robert Stein writes that Barack Obama can learn much from the 16th president, who perhaps even more than wisdom and moral strength needed a highly developed political sense of the possible. LINK

THE FIRST TECHNOLOGY PRESIDENT (1/11) Arriving in Washington at the dawn of the age of the telegraph, Lincoln embraced this new technology of instantaneous communication with a passion and used it not just to communicate with his generals in the field during the Civil War, but to bend them to his will. LINK

LINCOLN LINCOLN BO BINCOLN (1/4) A substantial Lincoln mythology had taken hold in the American imagination even before his assassination in 1865. This canon of broad brush strokes and tall tales gave Lincoln his historic due but overlooked or willfully ignored the myriad complexities of our greatest president. LINK

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Just Pardon The Poor Guy, Dammit!

Offered in memory of my mother, a great boxing fan and civil rights
activist, who would have celebrated her 84th birthday today.

For being the greatest heavyweight fighter of his generation and the first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson got an extraordinary amount of grief.

Johnson, known as the "Galvaston Giant" for his Texas hometown and imposing size, held the title from 1908-1915 and won 124 fights and lost only 14 overall through a then-distinctive defensive approach to boxing where he would wait for his opponent to make a mistake and the capitalize on it, all the while punishing his foes rather than trying to knock them out.

The white press characterized this effective approach as cowardly and devious, and he already was a polarizing figure when he beat formerly undefeated white heavyweight champion James Jeffries in the "Fight of the Century," (top photo) a July 4, 1910 bout before 22,000 fans in Reno, Nevada.

White fans felt humiliated when Jeffries was twice knocked down in the 15th round and refused to continue for fear of being knocked out. The outcome of the fight triggered race riots in 25 cities across the U.S. after blacks began celebrating in the streets, and at least 23 blacks and two white died and hundreds were injured.

As a black man, Johnson broke a powerful taboo in consorting with white women, and would verbally taunt men -- both white and black -- inside and outside the ring.

In July 1920, he surrendered to federal agents for allegedly violating the Mann Act against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" by sending his white girlfriend a railroad ticket to travel from Pittsburgh to Chicago. It was widely viewed as a misuse of the act, which was intended to stop interstate traffic in prostitutes.

Johnson was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, where he served a one-year sentence. While imprisoned, he invented a tool to help tighten fastening devices and later was granted a U.S. patent.

He died in a car crash near Raleigh, North Carolina
at age 68 in 1946, just one year before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball.

There have been renewed calls to grant Johnson a posthumous presidential pardon since Barack Obama became president, but don't hold your breath. The Department of Justice, responding to a request from Representative Peter King, a New York Republican and former pugilist himself, said that Johnson was simply too time consuming to investigate by DOJ's small pardons staff and punted the question to the White House, which has "plenary" power to issue posthumous pardons.

Okay, Barack. The ball's in your court.