Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Rants Go Marking Dubai, Too

Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but "Dubai or not Dubai", exceedingly appealing in its double-entendreness, is already well-worn. We are, of course, talking about Dubai Ports World taking over the British owned and so quaintly titled Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's rights to operate either six or twenty one American port operations, depending on how one defines operate.

What an interesting story this has turned out to be! In October DPW told the Treasury Department about the proposed deal, and then it took all of the agencies involved in the security of the US, who normally can't agree if a sign says walk or don't walk, about a month to declare, "No problem here." Seems like things might have been expedited a little, would you think? By whom?

Not the Preznit, no sir. After the AP "broke" the story of the deal on February 11th, and people began wondering why we were hiring the fox to watch the hen house, Bush was allegedly informed on Feb.16th that his administration had approved the deal. The approving body was the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Among it's members from eleven agencies is Donald Rumsfeld, head of the Department of Defense. Surely this one of eleven would have been involved in this vetting, right? Nope, in a press conference on Feb. 21 he said he had "minimal information" about the deal because he had "just heard about this over the weekend."

At this point all hell had broken loose, with some interesting role reversal going on in the mix. One of the first tacks was taken by the AP in its initial story, that DPW was somewhat state owned by the UAE that had been host and/or home to several al Qaeda terrorists. This unnecessarily fueled the immediate, more racist fires whose objection is purely that these are Arabs. This is a nonsensical argument―it's like saying Kansas's Sprint corporation can't build towers in Oklahoma because Terry Nichols lived in Marion, KS. At the liberal blogs there was plenty of this raw attack, but also a whole lot of, "Hold on there, lets not out-hate the haters. Let's not base our opinion solely on the race of DPW's ownership."

Astonishingly in this black/white political climate, the right was having the same argument. Here was the administration telling people that we need to consider the message we were sending to our "ally" in the war on terror. Clearly there was a lesson in sensitivity to be learned here, and from the Administration, no less!

There were lots of ways to go with this story, including the examination of big business. Big, big business. The inevitable political agony this would surely cause the administration, and their bull-headed intention to stay the course, led some people to become very suspicious on the money side. Could someone be trading political capital for real capital? Enter another of the eleven, Treasury's Jack Snow. CSX Corp. is a shipping giant that sold much of its worldwide operations to DPW in 2005. Snow was CEO of CSX (try to keep up, here) when they had sold another subsidiary in 2002 for 300 million to (here we go) the Carlyle Group. Enter Bush the Elder, James Baker, and a couple of Bin Ladens, among others. When the deal was announced, Snow had already been tapped as Treasury Secretary. One week earlier! A year later Carlyle sold the renamed company to a New York company for 650 million!

Questions that still burn here:

  • How did the Carlyle Group get such a bargain?
  • Are the CSX/DPW and CSX/Carlyle deals intertwined?
  • Who might owe whom what after Carlyle doubled their money in one year in a business that is apparently not profitable enough for US interests?
  • Bush and Rummy knew nothing about DPW's latest 7 billion dollar deal in a business that Snow, Baker and Bush Sr. made millions in?

I keep coming back to that, don't I? A UAE company is spending seven billion dollars on US port operations management, the deal is under a security review, and the unholy duo of our "war on terrorism" leadership knows nothing about it and/or is willing to put that up as their defense!

Well, a little time has passed, and Congress is in a major fit now. The deal is delayed, with Bush threatening to veto a ban. Liberals and conservatives are looking for consolidation, time marches on. Each accuses the other side of trying to be like them, which is, of course, each side's purported goal in life.

My take? Who knows what all these deals mean to the principals and hangers on, so the money angle is beyond me. On the matter of security, I don't consider caution in consideration of the anti-American aspect of the culture of the UAE and its employees to be racist. Chinese do not blow up our ships. Brits don't hijack our planes. Bush is still pushing the "Coast Guard handles the security" line. This is bullshit, pure and simple. This is the administration who asks every man jack in America to be ever vigilant against terrorism, yet in our most vulnerable locations vigilance by the few is enough.

Even by Bush standards, the policy is idiotic. Is he being set up? Is it convenient right now to push through what DPW wants on a limping administration, a killing of two birds with one stone? If Bush is on the outs, how dangerous is this India/Pakistan trip? I'd be thinking twice.

But to my mind the most likely scenario is the continuance of union busting, part of the war on everyone else that the corporate world has been conducting without pause for such things as terrorism and war. Check out this Wall Street Journal editorial about the criticism of the deal:

It is also not a good way to convince the world that we mean what we say about free trade and investment. The port-management business is dominated by non-American companies in part because high labor costs drove U.S. firms out of the business. That's also in part the handiwork of the International Longshoremen's Association, an affiliate of the protectionist AFL-CIO.

Let's see; the Administration and the UAE and the WSJ on one side. Workers on the other.

That's about right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Oh Limp X Games

Actually, I've been watching quite a bit of the Winter Olympics. I've watched the ice dancing and figure skating, which I find to have a compelling drama quite unlike a lot of athletic endeavor. The character that goes into these efforts, or lack thereof, is immediately, thoroughly displayed. There is great courage in these skaters, as well as uncommon grace, stamina and perseverance. Each of them begins the performance needing little short of perfection, and most times leaves nothing in reserve in the attempt.

And the ski, skate, sled and board racers that train for so long and so hard to achieve that .03 second edge that makes them the best in the world, well, the efforts are incredible, the losses heartbreaking, and the wins indescribably ecstatic.

Not everyone feels this way, to be sure, as ratings for these tape delayed games are down. People like Bill Maher think gravity sports are a big joke, dismissive of the perfection required to win a luge or bobsled event. Okay, it's a cheap joke for a guy running out of decaying flesh in the colon humor. Annoying, but not nearly in the same league as the comments of that graduate of the Jim-Brown-got-a-major-hair-across-his-ass school, Bryant Gumbel:

Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them ... Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won ... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin.

Bryant, Bryant, Bryant. Is this the same incredulity required when your phony-ass grinning no-talent self rode into Nagano? Are you and Greg actually related? Because that sense of humor gene seems to have taken the remissive role in your model. These are called the modern Olympics, Bry, and maybe one in a hundred professional American "athletes" would have anything near the athleticism required to get through a four minute pairs program.

You say you don't watch, and must then be subjectively judging the judging to be subjective. Or you do watch, and it only seems subjective to you because you watch with the same non-curiosity evident in your interviews. Which is it?

And then the black thing―the old twilight of the career, attention starved gambit of becoming a controversial spokesman for the oppressed in between rounds at Doral or Kapalua. I guess for real athletes we should have been tuning in the NBA All-Star Game. Then, instead of kiss and cry areas we could have been treated to piss and moan everywhere, and cushy padded folding chairs for the fat asses of real athletes who need to call time out if they have to actually run three lengths of an eighty foot court in succession.

Can't find this year's ratings, but last year this assemblage of the NBA fantastic drew a 3.5 rating ... live. The Olympics are averaging a 6.3 ... tape delayed, with an upswing expected toward the finale.

And then there's that March Madness you can't wait for. Last year the first two rounds, again live, pulled a 5.9 share (in the overnights, I haven't found the final ratings). Obviously more people are curious about this. If you have any curiosity about any of this, Bill Maher or Bryant Gumbel, look closer. Look a lot closer. Look at Marie-France Dubreuil, who early in her program crashed onto her hip and, not knowing if it was broken, returned to finish. Look at Irina Slutskaya, who trails by .03 points in the women's figure skating. While her mother awaits a kidney, and she fights a debilitating blood vessel disease, she maintains her humor, poise and dignity with her lifelong dream so nearly realized.

It's about something way, way beyond mere athleticism. It's about character.

And you gotta go diss it all playing the race card for hire. Shame on you. Oh, and by the way, as of this writing 16.67% of America's medals were won by blacks, who total 12.9% of the population. Oh, the paucity of it all!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney's Got a Gun

It may seem like an accident. The Vice President turns and fires too carelessly and his buddy goes down. Happens all the time.

Now, don't think I'm going to say here that Cheney intentionally fired on his hunting partner. I couldn't know that about the man, and it strikes me as a pretty messy way to go about things for a guy who, let's face it, has more than a few hit men at his command.

But the story is so incredibly, hilariously, perfectly apt! What better describes the policies of this administration, held by many to be dictated by Cheney, than "shoot first, and ask questions later"? And then the man goes out and, in the simplest form, does exactly that! This is an accident?

The loyal opposition has been screaming that they are being accused of being weak on defense by a bunch of armchair warriors, and then this clown is caught in an imbroglio while getting out of his car to blast cage grown flightless birds to kingdom come. The big, tough former Secretary of Defense does canned hunting, like the little kids fishing at a roadside trout pond.

And in the midst of all the shouting about the Administration's secrecy and it's controversial policy of executive power trumping the law, he holds back for nearly a day the fact that the second most or possibly most powerful man in the world has shot somebody. When the sheriff's deputy arrives to make a report, he's told to come back tomorrow.

Of course, right wingers wonder what all the fuss is about, these guys who spent 40 million dollars on Clinton's sex life. Lots of left wingers are wishing the emphasis were on more substantial issues as well, and yet the story continues to fascinate. It just writes itself, it's so natural!

The comedians are having a field day. My favorite is this, from The Daily Show:

Rob Corddry : "Jon, tonight the Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now, according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be the 78 year old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.

And this man, who has been largely responsible for thousands of deaths of Americans, tens of thousands of dead Arabs, and untold thousands of post traumatic stress disorders, finally shows up four days later on kiss-his-ass Faux News to tell us that seeing his friend go down was the worst day of his life. Boo fucking hoo!

And so while this week we may have been discussing:

  1. how Cheney outed Valerie Plame while she was working on Iran's hunger for enriched uranium;
  2. that Bush by executive order extended his power to Cheney to classify and, presumably, de-classify intelligence info the very month Cheney was doing the outing;
  3. the latest Patriot Act shenanigans; or
  4. the so many ways the administration is changing the rules of American society via sub-paragraphs buried in voluminous legislation;

instead this is the story that resonates.

Relying on the witnesses who had 24 hours to corroborate their story the local authority has swiftly come to the conclusion that this incident was an accident, but the life in this story begs a qualifier.

Given the man, it was an accident waiting to happen.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Behind Every Candy Store is a Sugar Plantation

There is a certain weakness I have where automobiles are concerned. I'm by no means an aficionado, but I know they're out there. I don't drive my life in a way that I might collect big boy toys like that Porsche Cayman S on the left, but if I won the lottery I would know where to find one. Out of all the cars I saw yesterday, I'd have to say that this was the most gorgeous. And I saw a lot of cars yesterday.

Some friends of mine, who are aficionados, took me to the Chicago Auto Show. Eleven hours worth. This show is big, the biggest in the world. It covers 23 acres of floor space, which is only about 55% of the available apace at Chicago's massive McCormick Place convention complex. McCormick Place is named after Col. Robert McCormick, editor and manager of the Chicago Tribune during the early and mid 20th century. During his tenure the Tribune was uncompromisingly right wing extremist, a tradition that remains, though now expressed in a more measured, and therefore a perhaps more insidious style.

In the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 the Chicago Police (da policeman is not dere to create disorder, da policeman is dere to perserve disorder ... another mayor Daley) murdered ten strikers and injured at least a hundred more. McCormick's Tribune dismissed the strikers as communists trying to take over the Republic steel plant, and that the police had only done their duty. In these more civilized days this paper, which once billed itself "The American Paper for Americans", is more likely to be using the editorial pages for exercises such as chiming in with da Mayor and Governor about the necessity for union concessions at McCormick Place, in order to avoid a loss of trade show revenue.

These cries continue, as McPier (who runs this and Navy Pier) has run into some losses. These losses are blamed on the competitiveness of other centers, and unions are expected to make the necessary adjustments. Going unstated in any such calls for reasonableness is the fact that this largest convention center in America and second largest in the world, run by an agency "concerned" about losing shows, is in the process of adding another half a million square feet of space and another 100,000 square foot ballroom. Financed with a 1.1 billion dollar bond. Being paid for out of operating revenues.

So how bad is it for McPier? They expect to show an operating loss of about one million for the three years ending in June, 2006, as opposed to a projected sixty two million. This while they are paying the interest on their new construction. This after they won major union concessions in 1998 and minor ones here and there. Thus union workers are transporting and building the shows, directing the traffic, serving the food, selling the tickets, building the expansion, and essentially financing the expansion with their concessions (and I don't mean the beer and such). And they are the bad guys. McCormick would be proud.

And the shows business (there's no business like shows business)? I was reserving a room in Denver for late May and, thinking the cost pretty darn reasonable, decided to check prices in Chicago for the same date, just for fun. Sold out.

McCormick moved on with typical modesty to call the Tribune the "World's Greatest Newspaper" (hence WGN Radio and television), but back to the cars.

I'm looking for a car, but not actually in the $75,000 large price range (surprised?). At 30,000 miles a year, I'm not looking to burn through more than about $17,000. It needs to be comfortable and have plenty head, shoulder and leg room. The show can't help me with driving characteristics, but I checked every car in this range for head, shoulder and leg room; the ergonomics of entry and exit and pedal and shifter positions; mileage (must be 30+ highway); included features such as cruise, power windows, remote entry and seat adjustment; quality of interior elements; and general styling (as much as you get in this range). I also want a hatchback, since we will have an existing Ford Focus sedan and this leaves very little flexibility for loading larger items.

The pickings get thin, and I come down to two existing models and one that won't be available until summer. The two existing are the Focus five door (after a rocky start this model has been very good, and I own a good one already), and a VW Golf. The intriguing possibility is a coming model from Nissan, the Versa. Nissan had some of these at the show, and they were better configured and showed some newer thinking about this class that the older Golf and Focus don't. On the other hand, it will be a totally new car, which means concerns about bugs and it will carry no incentive like the Focus does. In it's favor is a body style, typically Nissan, with some originality and eccentricity, things always appealing to me, a persons who actually once owned a (68?) SAAB 95.

Or the Porsche, tough choice.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Four Bit Drama, Minus Change

So I'm in a mega Mobil station in Kenosha, minding my own business (well, for a while anyway). While searching through the coffee, cappuccino and cocoa machines for the cream for my coffee, I hear the dulcet screech of the local dialect thusly:

The signs say two dollars and twenty four cents, but the pumps all say two dollars and twenty nine cents. Now, I just want to know, which one is it?

I'm thinking at this point, "Why don't you go try pumping some gas out of the sign, moron?" cause there's something about the tone that is pissing me off already. The clerk takes a more polite approach and tries to explain to this self righteous, indignant twit that they have been attempting to change the pump prices, but they are having trouble getting the computer to manage it. She is sorry, they did not realize that the signs had changed over. At this point the manager comes out and gets the gist from the clerk. She asks if the clerk knows how to run a credit for the price difference for the customer, she will be happy to show her how.

I wonder if this will actually be so easy, as it is obviously the same computer and operator we're dealing with here.

It doesn't matter, because before the the manager's words, or anyone else's words, can be finished to the point of being half understood our little squiglet is strangling the second verse:

Well, I haven't pumped the gas yet. I just need to know, which price is the right price?

The manager again:

I am supposed to reduce the price by five cents, but the change didn't take. I'm working on it, but in the meantime I will be happy to issue a credit for the five cents.

It's obvious to me that the manager is a bit green to be up on the workings of the minds of the indignant EVERYBODY IS TRYING TO SCREW ME class represented so gratingly here, and so she doesn't realize, like I do, that there is no way in hell the customer is going to figure out that she can just go out, pump the gas at the higher price, and come in and get the discount. Sure enough:

So, if you're saying that the price is really two dollars and twenty nine cents, I don't have to get gas now. You best believe I can stop on my way home if the price is going to be five cents cheaper, for sure.

That last part she squeals quite proudly, snout skyward with Miss Piggy pride at such a clever assertion.

An eerie silence falls over the room as the manager looks at the clerk, and the clerk looks at me, and I look at the clerk, and the clerk looks at the manager, and then we all look at the customer. Wow. The customer gets that little "hey, what am I missing" tilt and then walks out, gets into her Toyota whats-its and drives off.

At the end of the day, and if her Toyota is really empty, she will be proud to have saved ... about forty five cents. And all of this in a blustery lake effect snow squall!

Oh, the inanity!

But this says so much about the brainwashed masses of post-911, homophobic, xenophobic, agoraphobic, androphobic, coitophobic, phonemophobic, erotophobic, noctiphobic, scopophobic, verminophobic and generally phobophobic misfits that populate our landscape. The hot button issues blare away, sound bite by sound bite, headline by headline, and rationality is impossible. Oil and the Middle East and oh, my God how is one going to get through it all and there isn't enough time in the day and the next thing you know, that someone is spending fifteen minutes of her precious time making sure that only ten minutes more spent later in the day will save her forty five cents!

And they vote for Republicans cuz Republicans mean business in the WAR ON TERRORISM. That's really important to them because they are TERRIFIED of everything and at least someone will do something about it. Republicans yuk it up as they devise ten or twenty ways to suck the blood out of these zombies, giggling with themselves as they write speeches about the TERRORISTS AND THEIR EFFORTS TO OBTAIN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION oh, my God, oh, my God!

As if terrorists are over there, right now, drawing maps of Kenosha in the sand. Lunacy! As if the world weren't always a dangerous place!

They don't think, they can't think. And when the mind is blown there is only one salvation, faith.

One shining path. One God.

... there is no God but one ...

One heavenly light.

The new gray.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dissembled Still, But Plowing Ahead

My brain is still sloshing along, much like the rum punch in my stomach while on a catamaran cruise Tuesday (some pics up here). In an attempt to recover whatever one might call the flow like thing that drives this opus, I'll go with scattergun.

In the toy box in the garage are my baseball mitt, football and basketball, in amongst all the nerfy stuff we Spockians invented to make our little darlings all safe-like. The mitt (that's what we called them) is a little worn from distantly remembered company softball team seasons, and the football is practically virginal. the basketball, however, is on it's way to that fuzzy, one pound light twilight of its career―a kind of faux suede advanced middle age of somewhat slippery elegance.

How did things get that way? Why does this simple spheroid object rate such attention over it's close cousin, the sleekly tapered football with it's ability to be launched in a perfect, forty yard long, four dimensional parabola to meet the outstretched fingertips of a leaping, sprinting playmate? What about that "having a catch" (I don't know anybody who didn't say "play catch") thing ? "Baseball, hot dogs and apple pie" and that kind of stuff?

You see, football and baseball are necessarily social. Basketball can be, but it doesn't have to be.

There's my self-revelation for the day.

Moving on:

A great American died this week. I'm sure thousands of great Americans died, so let's say an extremely influential and determined American, Betty Friedan. Author in 1963 of the book "The Feminine Mystique", Friedan examined the frustration of the fifties and sixties women, discovering that those who were involved in activities outside the home were far happier with themselves and their men than others. She founded NOW, but fell into disfavor with most radical feminists with her insistence that loving men was a defining process for woman, achievable with ultimate quality only by the elevation of women to an equal status with men inside and outside of the home. Her book was the non-fiction bestseller in 1964, an astounding year in so many regards.

And on:

Things have quieted considerably on the Republican scandal fronts. The media have failed or chosen not to emphasize the scale of the collusive governmental/corporate intrusion into our lives. The same public that believes Saddam was in league with OBL believes that this spying bit is all about a few "wiretaps" on messages to or from Al Qaeda agents. The same public that entrusts their sons and daughters to our Commander in Chief paid little attention this week to the revelation that he once was considering sacrificing twenty or so of them by putting them into planes with phony UN markings and instigating an attack from Hussein, thereby starting the war he was insistent on starting. Nice. At least Al Qaeda takes care of its suicide bombers' families. The shepherd of our "Support our Troops" flock dreams up these little scenarios to sacrifice American lives while he simultaneously cuts veteran's benefits, or works to make accessing those benefits so arcane and convoluted that so many give up altogether. Though at least 95% of the Abramoff scandal is Republican, that other 5% is enough for the ill-informed masses to dismiss the whole thing with a "they all do it".

And on:

Wisconsin companies supplied all the toilets at the Super Bowl. And the toilet paper. Kleenex, Kotex? You bet! Something for those Michiganers to think about, and a place to do it. Often the football championship is not a single elimination event, but we got it covered.

Quickly on:

I recommend watching the Senate Intelligence(?!) Committee tomorrow (Monday) interviewing US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose statements, maintaining the administration position that few Americans are affected by the NSA's and others' data mining operations, are being contradicted daily in numerous reports. Squirm city.


I have things to do.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Oh, mon!

I have to admit, it's a little hard for me to pick up here. In fact, it's a little hard for me to have a lot of motivation to do anything right now. Such is the state of mind after having spent a week at an all-inclusive Jamaican resort, where all activity consists of four things; eating, sleeping, drinking and picking a chaise.

Well, maybe five things.

Pictured is the Italian restaurant at Couples, Ocho Rios. Couples isn't the most modern of the popular resorts in Jamaica. It was previously called the Tower Isle Beach Club, host to such diverse luminaries as Walt Disney, Debbie Reynolds and Fidel Castro before turning all-inclusive in 1979. It's not the most elegant either, just down the road Couples has bought San Souci, a smaller, more intimate, cliff hugging beauty.

It's a classic beach resort, a little long in the tooth but stretched out along the waterside, with the great majority of its rooms ocean view and not more than fifty yards from the water. We're not talking marble baths and sunken Jacuzzis here, just comfortable rooms with private balconies where the French doors need not be closed and the curtains need not be drawn shut.

Food? Very good. Not over the top cuisine but very, very good from the ground up. What do I mean by that? Jamaica is a very mountainous island, and large enough to wring a lot of rain from the trade winds, hence an abundance of water. Ocho Rios means eight rivers. The greatest portion of the food served at the resorts is grown on the island. Vegetables are plentiful and varied, and they are extremely fresh. Lots of water means lots of ice, and the beer and punch are as refreshingly cold as the salads. The dishes and glassware are clean. An extensive Continental breakfast menu was available for the included room service, as was a breakfast buffet with to-order omelets, steamed fish, grilled vegetables, Danish, bagels, lox, English muffins, bacon, sausage, waffles, warm potato salad, they had it covered.

Though I seemed to overdo it at times, I only gained about four pounds, and this with no visits to the gym.

Ah, but all good things must end, else why would they be better than the rest? The beautiful sunset descent through three strata of wispy clouds over Lake Michigan brought us down to a heavy cover at three thousand feet, through which we made our turns to the vector and final, dropping out of the low ceiling to reveal the steely gray gloom of a snowless, sunless February day.

At customs there was shouting and a near fight between two of Wisconsin's finest over cutting in line, this from an all "adult" charter. Everyone had to stop while agents calmed them down. Wonderful. Home.