Sunday, June 20, 2010

Groucho Marx on Father's Day

Not sure why I thought of this, but in honor of fathers everywhere this Father's Day, here is Groucho Marx on the Dick Cavett show lamenting the lack of songs about Fathers, compared to the amount of songs about mothers, and singing the two songs about fathers he knew:

He did this same basic routine - though a bit tighter - in his Carnegie Hall performance of his 1970s one man show, An Evening with Groucho. As a kid I wore out the album made from the recording of that show. Someone has parts of that recording on YouTube with subject-specific still photos accompanying the audio, but I didn't see the segment with the Father's Day routine on it, but another site has the entire album on-line as separate downloadable MP3s.

"Because according to our Mother, you're our Father! And that's good enough for us."

Full blog post...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TO: Barack Obama, President; FROM: The Nation; RE: Oilpocalypse

President Obama addressed the nation while sitting in the Oval Office, which, every pundit told us several times, he had not done so far in his administration and thus speaking from the Oval Office signaled the seriousness of his message and the anticipation for some substantive proposals and a call to action was thicker than the black crude choking the turtles and pelicans in the Gulf.

Then... Then...

What that it? Was that FREAKIN' IT??? BP is to come up with a reparations fund that will be administered by a neutral third party? That was ALL the President has? Where is the rumored excise tax to fund a massive public works coastal restoration fund to undo the coastal wetlands damage inflicted by decades of oil drilling and dredging of the Mississippi River? Where is the Kennedyesque moon-shot call to action? Obama's predecessor forty-eight years ago knew how to exercise authority and mobilize a nation from that desk where Barry O. now takes up space:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. (President John F. Kennedy, We Choose to Go to the Moon, speech at Rice University, Texas, September 12, 1962)

The most concrete thing suggested tonight is probably not something that the president can do. President Obama said he would "inform" the chairman of BP that "he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."

Or, to put it in other words, Obama will tell BP that the rule of law and due process no longer apply to their company and that they should just hand over the company checkbook so the feds can dispense BP's as they see fit.

Douglas Brinkley, formerly of Tulane University and now teaching in Texas, has been in several media venues over the past week touting how his White House sources had let him know that Obama was going to propose a massive TVA-style public works project to save the wetlands. He was on Anderson Cooper 360 June 9th and said that a new "conservation excise tax" was going to fund this needed restoration effort.

Brinkley gave more details about this supposedly soon-to-be-announced project on Garland Robinette's local show Monday here on WWL 870 AM, and suggested that Obama's plan would call for $10-20 billion dollars to re-direct the Mississippi River into the wetlands to help flush out the oil and replenish them with the sediment that is now flowing off the continental shelf. He said that this would come both from BP initially and from the afore-mentioned "conservation excise tax". The full interview can be heard through WWL.Com:

(Or peruse the sloppy computer-generated auto-transcript.)

These are the sort of dramatic, decisive proposals that many of us were expecting from President Obama tonight. And we got nothing. NOTHING. Is Brinkley sucking up in hopes of getting an administration position? Sorry, Doug, the position of Policy Pimp in Chief is already taken.

Mr. President, you do NOT have the courage of your convictions. You hardly talk the talk, let alone walk the walk. And you trick notable public figures like Douglas Brinkley into floating your trial balloons to see what the public reaction will be. One question for Professor Brinkley: Did Obama at least have the courtesy to give you a reach around? We didn't get one.

Full blog post...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Obama Kicking Ass, Media Kissing Ass

Playing the “if a Republican did that” game is boring because the results are nearly always the same: a republican wouldn’t get the same free pass from the media that a democrat often gets. In an alternate universe President McCain would not be receiving the kid glove treatment from the media that President Obama is getting over the Gulf Coast Oilpocalypse. A republican president so detached, so cool and so removed from this catastrophe would be flayed alive by the pundits.

The president hasn’t personally talked to the top dog at BP? McCain would be accused of letting his big oil buddies run the show with minimal federal oversight. But when President Obama, on Matt Lauer’s “who’s ass to kick” Today show interview assured the nation that “we have communicated”, with BP officials, that was that: OK, no problem, we can check off that minor criticism because Obama says he has it covered because, essentially, “my people have called his people”.

Similarly, in that same interview, President Obama gave a relatively optimistic prediction that many of the coastal areas damaged by the spill may bounce back sooner than the more pessimistic prognosticators have stated:
[T]hese ecosystems are more resilient than I think we anticipate right now, if we act swiftly, if we act seriously. There are going to be marshes, for example, where the oil goes in and the sea life that's there is decimated for a season, maybe two. But potentially we can preserve those estuaries and those marshes so that three years from now things have come back; things have bounced back.
(See full transcript.)

By the end of the interview there were surely officials from environmental groups all over the country preparing statements to counter what the President had said, but which would be worded in such a way that they will essentially say, “ummm, excuse me, mister President, but with all due respect the effect on the Louisiana shoreline may be a good bit more serious and long-lasting than your statement would lead folks to believe”.

But if a President McCain had made a similar statement of tempered optimism, we would have every environmental activist and political commentator in the country belching a fire-and-brimstone torrent of hatred about how clueless the president was and how the oil along Louisiana’s shore may very well damage the entire regions’s wetlands for our lifetimes (such similar and unfounded apocalyptic predictions weren’t true in Prince Williams’ sound after the Exxon Valdez spill, either, and its bounced back better than most anyone expected).

And if a President McCain, when asked about it, admitted that he didn’t know whether his head of MMS had been fired or had resigned, he’d be portrayed as being too far removed and hands-off from the day-to-day operations of his administration to ever be an effective chief executive of anything, let alone of the United States. Ans, yes, admittedly the MMS is one of many minor agencies, but it had been at the forefront of the crisis by the time Elizabeth Bernbaum left over a month after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded and sank.

Speaking of former MMS director Birnbaum, she was an Obama administration appointee, not a direct holdover from Bush the Second, though she had formerly worked at the Department of the Interior for a short time under both the Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations. This is another point glossed over amidst the many vague allusions to how MMS is chock-a-block full of Bush-era oil industry crony holdovers. That was the point alluded to in Friday’s June 11th Times-Picayune letter to the editor from Tulane School of Law Enviro-shyster Oliver Houck, who I’ved ragged on before about sloppy cites and mis-leading sources about Jazz Fest and Global Warming (long story - read it for the full details). Professor Houck’s main point echoed one of the major themes in the media coverage of the Obama administration’s response to the spill:
“But harsh criticisms of the White House for something set up by its predecessors and over which it has few viable options is not helpful.” (Houck, Don't Blame Obama for Inherited Oil Problems, Times-Picayune, June 11, 2010, at B6)
So, again, Obama gets a pass though he’s been in office for sixteen months and hasn’t been able to bend the federal bureaucracy to his will, but Bush completely owned all responsibility for 9/11 after being in office only eight months and had inherited a gutted intelligence apparatus from the “it’s the economy, stupid”, foreign-policy ducking Clinton administration.

There’s no shortage of ways the media has been kissing up to Obama in their oil spill coverage. If a President McCain had had the similar ill-fortune and bad timing to have said, coincidentally just three weeks before the platform explosion, that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills”, that singular video clip would be repeated during every news story about the oil spill from now through perpetuity:

Yes, Obama’s lack of precognition in making this statement has been noted, but it has been reported with the air of “tsk-tsk, isn’t that a bad spot of the wrong words at the wrong time” by Obama’s media sycophants, not the “He was wrong, blatantly wrong, couldn’t be more clueless, we can’t believe a thing this president says” that the same story would have if McCain had made this statement. (For the full transcript of Obama’s comments, see Remarks at Celgard, LLC, and a Question-and-Answer Session in Charlotte, North Carolina, DCPD-201000228, Friday, April 2, 2010.)

And imagine if it had been President McCain’s administration that was the subject of this news story:
May 21st, 2010 CBS Evening New with Katie Couric:

COURIC: We just heard Chip Reid in Cheryl`s piece. Now he`s standing by at the White House. And, Chip, last week, President Obama was accusing BP and other companies involved in the drilling operation of playing the blame game, and, clearly, White House officials are concerned that some fingers are starting to point at them.

REID: Well, Katie, they`re doing everything in their power to make sure that does not happen. At the briefing today, very contentious as you saw, Robert Gibbs did not give an inch. He insisted over and over again the federal government is in charge and they`re doing everything humanly possible to respond to this disaster. In fact, they continued fighting back even after the briefing was over, calling reporters, some reporters, one by one, up to the West Wing to criticize them for asking the same questions over and over again for weeks.

And, you know, they`re right-- we are. But I think the reason is that there`s a growing frustration in that room, on Capitol Hill and in the region that some questions about what the government is doing still haven`t been adequately answered. Katie.
If a republican president’s press secretary had chided the White House Press Corps because they were asking too many questions about the oil spill? Meltdown! White House in full crisis! MacCain’s administration can’t even handle the media asking legitimate questions about the federal response to the oil spill! Can this administration survive with any shred of credibility???

On a related point, I never heard new stories mention how President Bush always traveled with state of the art communications equipment so he could stay in touch with his cabinet and other government and military officials wherever he is, but I’ve heard the media shills for Obama mention that. So its OK if Obama isn’t in the White House when something happens and we don’t hear from him for three days after someone attempts to bomb an airplane on Christmas, or if he has played more golf in sixteen months than Bush II played in eight years. Yes, these things have been mentioned by the press, but as criticism they’re the pats on the wrist that a parent gives an adorable toddler when they misbehave compared to what would be heaped upon a republican president.

So after floundering in a sea of perceived inattention, the administration decided the best way for President Obama to show a little backbone was to say he’s talking to experts and advisors to find out “which ass to kick.”
“And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right?”
And this wasn’t even the first time a nebbish Milquetoast of a democratic president tried to butch himself up by saying “ass”: back in 1979, President Carter was asked about the possibility of Senator Edward Kennedy challenging him in the upcoming presidential election. Carter said that if Kennedy ran, “I’ll whip his ass”. One big difference is that back then the networks weren’t as comfortable airing the word “ass” and, like the Time magazine story in that link says, “Tom Brokaw of NBC'S Today show mumbled slyly about a ‘three-letter part of the anatomy that's somewhere near the bottom’”. The other difference is that at least’s Carter’s comment was completely off-the-cuff and honest. Obama’s ass-kicking comment was so carefully preceded by the reference to how his administration isn’t a college seminar that there is no possible argument that this key statement in his “interview” with Lauer wasn’t anything but a very carefully vetted and scripted sound byte.

Full blog post...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Most Amazing - and Impractical - Library Design Concept Ever

This looked like the world’s coolest - but least practical - library ever:
(Direct link to full-sized image.)

When I saw this, my breath was taken away like, I imagine, most fellow librarian/book-geeks would be (and, yes, we’re not librarian because we “love books” - most of us love helping folks find information they need in the never-ending quest for each new answer that is daily service at the reference desk), and not all librarians are book geeks, nor are all book geeks librarians, by a long shot.

But - sigh - this isn’t a photograph of an existing facility: it’s apparently a rendering of an architectural design/proposal for the Stockholm Library. I found information about this image at something called the Long Now Foundation (a non-profit co-founded by Stewart Brand that strives to “creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years” - sounds very cool and very impressive: did they get part of their name and/or inspiration from the “Long Range Foundation” in Heinlein’s Time for the Stars? Jeez, now I’ve got to go track that book down and read it again.)

As gorgeous as this looks, its, of course, ridiculously impractical as a functioning library, unless it’s closed stacks or an archive, and even then: only three “skyways”, apparently, to get to the books, then all those stairs, which should be on the outside of the balconies/rows/whatever, instead of flush up against the books.

But it looks SOOOO COOOL!!! Which, apparently, is the whole point - a link from the Long Now page leads to a discussion at a computer graphics/digital design site. So this may have just been a “concept” and not a full, practical, serious proposal for the Stockholm Library but rather just a “wouldn’t it be neat to have a single, giant wall of books for an entire library” idea.

The comments on the Long Now blog post are both practical and clueless:
With sunlight falling right on the books?
Good point - it looks like the direct sun, even diffused, on the books on those top rows would bake the bindings in a few years.
As for the problem of reaching the top shelves – libraries do this all the time. They put books that are hardly ever used where they can only be reached after going through some trouble. For example using a sliding ladder.
Ummm, no, we don’t organize books by how often they’re used.

I couldn’t find a good picture of it on-line, but this sort of reminds me of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville: roughly half is the museum and the other half is the working archives of the Country Music Foundation. The archive half is enclosed in glass walls that you see from the museum half so that from most of the museum you can look into the archives where all those rows of compact shelving hold their collections and you can watch the archivists and staff at work. Its pretty awe-inspiring, like this fantastical library concept would be on a much larger scale, to see such a vast accumulation of material all in one sweeping view.

Full blog post...

Thursday, June 3, 2010