Saturday, January 19, 2008

The air traveler's lament: Where can I plug in?

I used to travel for work, but not so much in my current job. Most of my travel now is in-state, so if I fly it's usually once or twice a year for a vacation. But I have been stuck in an airport for hours, waiting, waiting, waiting. You wander around, looking at the outrageous prices on everything from magazines to a pack of gum. One time a colleague and I were stuck in Charlotte for 4 hours, and the only place we could find both a seat and something to eat was at a bar. The menu had something like 4 items. We had Sam Adams (biggie size that, please) and ordered the "nachos grande." Well, you guessed it: "nachos grande" was about 7 tostitos with melted cheez whiz and about 20 jalapenos on top.

But I digress.

Last summer I had a flight cancelled coming home from Boston Logan and was advised to try to reschedule by calling the airline's 800 number. Of course my cell phone battery was run down and about to die. So I searched and searched, and finally found a corner with an outlet so I could plug in, sit on the floor, and make my call. That's exactly the type of dilemna that new a web site seeks to solve.

The AirPower site says, "This wiki is dedicated to helping you find power while traveling at airports around the globe .... Power to the people, (quite literately). Airports rip people off on a multitude of fronts, (overpriced food, uncomfortable seating, rip off prices...) so it's nice to be able to get your own back, even if it is just in a small way. I live in London, in the UK, so hopefully I can add some European airports soon."

It's a pretty cool idea. I love wikis and this seems like the perfect use of them. But remember to look up an airport before you start out on your trip. Otherwise, how will you find the juice?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Attitude adjustment hour: For you, my Shiny Happy People!

Maryland to switch to optical-scan voting machines

That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief of the voters of Maryland:
The state will abandon the touch-screen voting machines that have sparked years of protests and replace the system with devices that permit a manual recount.

Maryland purchased the machines in the wake of the 2000 Florida election. They have been criticized as unreliable and susceptible to tampering.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has proposed $6.8 million to buy optical-scan machines, which can read paper ballots filled in by voters with pencil or pen.

Election reform advocates praised the move, saying voters currently have no guarantee that their ballots would be properly counted by the state's ATM-style machines, which were manufactured by Diebold Inc.

"Our machines can easily be rigged in ways that are undetectable," said Robert Ferraro of SAVE our Votes, a nonpartisan group. "We were anxiously waiting to see if the governor put the money in his budget, and he did, so we are very pleased. Otherwise, we would have been stuck with a paperless system."
Unfortunately, they won't be available until 2012 ....

Tiger taunting and vodka shots do not mix

More information is emerging about the scene at the San Fransisco zoo just before a tiger escaped from its enclosure and attacked three young men, killing one. According to court documents as reported by the AP:
One of the three victims of a San Francisco Zoo tiger attack was intoxicated and admitted to yelling and waving at the animal while standing atop the railing of the big cat enclosure.
The zoo certainly has some responsibility in this matter, as the enclosure walls were 4 feet shorter than the recommended height. However, what a way to find out. What kind of people decide to do a few shots, get high, and go yell at tigers at the zoo?
Kulbir Dhaliwal told police that the three had smoked pot and each had "a couple shots of vodka" before leaving San Jose for the zoo on Christmas Day the affidavit said.

Police found a small amount of marijuana in Kulbir Dhaliwal's 2002 BMW, which the victims rode to the zoo, as well as a partially filled bottle of vodka, according to court documents.

The two surviving victims must have known from the start that it was all going to hit the fan eventually, because they immediately hired high profile lawyer Mark Geragos, who began to spin a tale of the boys as victims -- focusing on the fact that they tried to get help for their friend while zoo employees were "dismissive." (Talk about dismissive! How about the fact that the reason their friend lay dying was that they had just been yelling and waving at the tiger?)

The brothers have not spoken publicly about this incident. The have however, apparently spoken with the father of the young man who died, Carlos Sousa, Jr. And the father, Carlos Sousa Sr., has spoken publicly:

Sousa's father, Carlos Sousa Sr., said Dhaliwal told him the three stood on a 3-foot-tall metal railing a few feet from the edge of the tiger moat. "When they got down they heard a noise in the bushes, and the tiger was jumping out of the bushes on him (Paul Dhaliwal)," the documents said.

Police found a partial shoe print that matched Paul Dhaliwal's on top of the railing, Matthews said in the documents.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time to get rid of caucuses: too much room for voter intimidation

The whole idea of gathering together in a room and voting for your preferred candidate by walking over to a group of like-minded people may have had its place in America's election history. But I think it's time for this process to go.

I feel for the culinary workers in Las Vegas. The shortcomings of the caucus system may be exposed at their expense. From the Las Vegas Sun:

Culinary Union organizers have been working in earnest for the last week to get the word out about the union’s endorsed candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, and to lock down member support in the run-up to Saturday’s caucus.

But two Culinary members supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton say they watched today as two of those field organizers were overzealous in their efforts as they collected pledge cards for Obama in the break room of a Strip casino. The Clinton campaign quickly tried to paint the incident as part of a broader pattern, though introduced no other evidence.

After the Sun worked the story for two hours, this much is clear: What exactly happened this afternoon at Paris Las Vegas depends on whom you talk to. To hear Clinton’s campaign and her supporters tell it, the union intimidated a member into caucusing for Obama, demanding that she sign a pledge card — or face exile from the caucus.

Now, it's unclear whether voter intimidation actually occurred, or whether this was just a misunderstanding. The reporter continued to follow the story, and in an update wrote:

The Culinary Union has investigated and says the source of the drama seemed to be about how one changes one’s party registration three days before the caucus.

Antuna was a registered independent, and the union reps were talking to her about how she had to be a Democrat to participate on Saturday, Weiss said.

Hardly scandalous and certainly not intimidation, she added.

Weiss said she suspects the whole incident was drummed up by the enthusiastic Clinton supporters, who got heated when the union reps started pitching Obama.

Well, I'm not surprised that when the Culinary Union investigated they -- surprise! -- placed all the blame on the Clinton staffers. But clearly there is room for confusion with this system, which may lead to voters who do not vote freely -- for a variety of reasons, including simple ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules. It's time for Nevada, Iowa, and all other states still using this antiquated election system to switch to a primary vote.

Republican Congresswoman: "Work harder, not smarter!"

It's no wonder that the American people feel jaded and cynical when it comes to politicians' promises. I mean, just take the new Republican proposal to jump start the economy, called the Middle Class Job Protection Act, which does nothing for the middle class. From ThinkProgress:

Today, Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), the chief deputy Republican whip in the House, unveiled his proposal to stimulate the economy. His legislation — the so-called Middle Class Job Protection Act — does nothing for the middle class. Instead, it reduces the corporate tax rate by 28 percent.

At a press conference today unveiling the stimulus proposal, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) justified the conservative plan to give tax breaks to corporations — instead of working Americans — by arguing that people actually like working long hours:

I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We’re the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs.

Bachmann’s version of the American Dream is apparently working two full-time jobs and struggling to get by.

Next I suppose we'll be hearing how much better behaved our children were when they had jobs, too.

Those were the days!

It's Ben Franklin's birthday (and other things I learned from NPR)

Happy birthday today to Benjamin Franklin! I heard a wonderful edition of The Writer's Almanac this morning on my drive in and couldn't wait to share it with you. I highly recommend listening to it here, to get the full effect of Garrison Keillor's delivery. (After you click on this link, click just below the date where it says "Listen.")

It's the birthday of founding father Benjamin Franklin. (books by this author) Though Philadelphia is regarded as his home, he was born in Boston on this day in 1706. Franklin had a natural curiosity about how things work. He spent much of his life searching for ways for people to live better. After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove—called the Franklin stove—which he never patented because he created it for the good of society. He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance.

When he grew tired of taking off and putting on his glasses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame, now called bifocals. His brother was plagued with kidney stones, so Franklin created a flexible urinary catheter to help him feel better. Among Franklin's other inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument), the odometer, and the lightning rod.

Franklin eventually retired from public service to spend his time reading and studying. He found, however, that his age left him unable to reach the high shelves in his library. He invented a tool called a "long arm"—a long wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end—to reach the books he wanted to read.

Benjamin Franklin said, "A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave."

It's also the birthday of Anne Bronte, always in the shadow of her sisters Charlotte and Emily. But here's a wonderful quote of hers in response to literary critics:
"Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts—this whispering "Peace, peace," when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

UPDATE: Fred Thompson awakens in South Carolina, asks "how did I get here? ... This is not my beautiful wife!"

With apparently nothing better to do with his time right now, Fred Thompson decided to get off the couch and do some of that thing called "campaigning." Looks like he's decided it's time for the bottom feeders of the GOP to be heard by the voters of South Carolina:
"There's an argument going on in the Republican Party right now," Thompson said to about 300 listeners crowded into a Golden Corral restaurant on Anderson Road. "We're down a little bit to the Democrats, so do we need to be more like the Democrats? I don't think so. Call it populist, whatever you want to call it. It always winds up more government."

Merchants presented him with gifts as he walked down Congress Street. Children asked for his autograph, and Mayor Eddie Lee proclaimed the day as "Senator Fred Thompson Day" in York.

After hearing Lee read the proclamation listing reasons why he deserved it, the senator offered a unique thanks.

"I'm Fred Thompson, and I endorse this message," he joked. "Last time I said that it cost me a lot more money."
Ha ha ha! Fred Thompson, you're so funny!

One of the commenters on this story seemed to think that I'm only picking on Fred because of the way he looks, talks, acts, etc. I want to assure everyone: I snark on substance, people! Here are just a few reasons why Fred Thompson should not be allowed anywhere near the White House:
  • Stated that Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad science. (Jun 2007)
  • Voted NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes. (Jun 2002)
  • Voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage. (Sep 1996)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation. (Sep 1996)
  • Voted YES on $75M for abstinence education. (Jul 1996)
  • Voted YES on defunding renewable and solar energy. (Jun 1999)
  • Voted YES on drilling ANWR on national security grounds. (Apr 2002)
  • Voted NO on banning more types of Congressional gifts. (Jul 1995)
  • Voted NO on background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
  • Voted NO on more penalties for gun & drug violations. (May 1999)
  • Voted YES on loosening license & background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
  • Voted YES on maintaining current law: guns sold without trigger locks. (Jul 1998)
  • Voted NO on allowing patients to sue HMOs & collect punitive damages. (Jun 2001)
  • Voted YES on repealing Clinton's ergonomic rules on repetitive stress. (Mar 2001)
  • Voted YES on killing an increase in the minimum wage. (Nov 1999)
More than enough reasons to fear The Fred. Here is my source for these votes.

Please sir .... can I have some more?

There's an excellent post by Scarecrow at Firedoglake about G.W.'s begging trip to Saudi Arabia. You know the trip he just took:
George: "Can we have more oil, please?" Saudis: "No."
From Scarecrow:

President Bush was in Saudi Arabia yesterday to pursue the linchpin of his Administration's energy policy: He asked the Saudis to produce more oil. Roughly translated, the Saudis said, "No. We will do it only if it's in our interest, not yours."

As Hillary Clinton noted in last night's Democratic debate, Bush has been reduced to pathetically begging the Saudis to sell us more oil at nearly $100 per barrel. The image is even uglier when one realizes that some portion of that record price may consist of risk premia caused by the Administration's own war mongering, including pumping up an obviously ambiguous naval incident with Iran, another of the world's largest oil producers.

Read the rest here.

Dept. of Things we shouldn't have to legislate: "Va. Lawmaker Seeks Ban on Replica Genitalia After Girl Spots Rubber Testicles on Trailer Hitch"

From the AP:
It's one thing to dangle fuzzy dice from a rear view mirror, but decorating a trailer hitch with a large pair of rubber testicles might be a bit much in Virginia.

State Del. Lionel Spruill introduced a bill Tuesday to ban displaying replicas of human genitalia on vehicles, calling it a safety issue because it could distract other drivers.

Under his measure, displaying the ornamentation on a motor vehicle would be a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $250.

He said the idea came from a constituent whose young daughter spotted an example of the trail hitch adornment and asked her father to explain it.

"'I didn't know what to tell her,'" Spruill said the constituent told him before Spruill vowed to stop such displays.

I don't even know what to say about this except ... Yay for no more rubber nuts at the traffic light!

The "item" below is marketed by Your Nutz as a way to "support the troops": "We’ve Respectfully placed the Yellow Ribbon designating Support the Troops on our Exclusive 8” Customized Desert Scheme Camo Nutz."

Wednesday poetry break

Depression Glass

It seemed those rose-pink dishes
she kept for special company
were always cold, brought down
from the shelf in jingling stacks,
the plates like the panes of ice
she broke from the water bucket
winter mornings, the flaring cups
like tulips that opened too early
and got bitten by frost. They chilled
the coffee no matter how quickly
you drank, while a heavy
everyday mug would have kept
a splash hot for the better
part of a conversation. It was hard
to hold up your end of the gossip
with your coffee cold, but it was
a special occasion, just the same,
to sit at her kitchen table
and sip the bitter percolation
of the past week’s rumors from cups
it had taken a year to collect
at the grocery, with one piece free
for each five pounds of flour.

— by Ted Kooser

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Court allows MSNBC to bar Kucinich

UPDATE: Oh no they didn't!

Nevada Supreme Court Says MSNBC Can Bar Kucinich From Candidate Debate

Basically the Nevada Supremes said that MSNBC is free to invite or dis invite anyone it wants to these debates because ... FCC rules don't apply to cable tv. I hear a collective "Oh that's right -- that's why all these nut jobs can appear on cable tv and say whatever they want."
The state Supreme Court's unanimous order said that blocking the debate unless Kucinich got to participate would be "an unconstitutional prior restraint" on the news network's First Amendment rights. The justices also said the lower court exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering Kucinich's participation even though he first requested and was denied relief from the Federal Communications Commission.

God bless Dennis Kucinich. Just when I think he's down for the count, he pops back up again. He has kind of turned me off as of late because of some of the campaign talk he's done. But you do have to give him credit for determination in the face of unsurmountable odds. Although NBC originally invited him to appear in the debates in Las Vegas tonight, the network changed its mind after the New Hampshire primary, and dis-invited him. You do not dis-invite Dennis Kucinich to anything, it turns out. From the AP:
LAS VEGAS – NBC News said it will appeal a judge's ruling rather than include Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in a candidates' debate Tuesday in Nevada.

“We disagree with the judge's decision and are filing an appeal,” said a statement provided for the network by Jeremy Gaines, a communications vice president for MSNBC. He said the network would seek an immediate hearing before the Nevada Supreme Court.

“I'm somewhat offended that a legitimate candidate was invited to a debate and then uninvited under circumstances that appear to be that they just decided to exclude him,” the judge said.

My question now is: What idiotic questions will Tim Russert ask the Ohio Congressman if NBC is forced to include Kucinich??

Clinton and Obama sittin' in a tree ....

Well, not quite, but I am pleased to hear that both the Clinton and Obama camps are calling for everyone to roll back the raced-related hyperbole that has been thrown around over the past week. I believe that by each candidate making this call, each one is also taking responsibility for their own part in it. Both campaigns have been guilty of making irresponsible statements and of overreacting to statements made by their opponents.

From The Raw Story:
"Over this past week, there has been a lot of discussion and back and forth - much of which I know does not reflect what is in our hearts," Clinton said in a statement. "And at this moment, I believe we must seek common ground."

"I don't want the campaign at this stage to degenerate to so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, that we lose sight of why we are doing this," continued Obama, as quoted by The Politico. "If I hear my own supporters engaging in talk that I think is ungenerous or misleading or unfair, I will speak out forcefully against it."
Peace on the Potomac. Now let's win the White House, people!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Today's civics lesson: The Nevada Caucuses (Also, why no one cares about Michigan)

First, okay, it's not true. Michigan: we care. It's just that the Michigan Democratic Party went ahead and moved the date of the primary up when the Democratic National Party told them not to. As punishment for the early primary, Michigan lost its delegates. With no delegates at stake, most front runners bailed, and the choices on the Michigan Dem ballot are Clinton, Kucinich, Gravel, and "uncommitted."

[Feel free to insert your own joke here.]

Moving on .... Although I generally think caucuses are a positive way to increase voter participation by forcing voters to debate and defend their choices -- thereby requiring them to actually know something about their candidate of choice, the Nevada caucuses have a unique constituency: casino workers. In an effort to address the main drawback of caucuses -- namely, that the window to participate is usually only a couple of hours in the evening, and not everyone can get off work to participate during those hours -- caucus sites will include several of the major venues along the Strip in Las Vegas.

From today's Washington Post:

Democratic officials, working with national party leaders, came up with the idea of caucusing in the casinos for the first time to increase participation in a town that doesn't know the meaning of a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workweek.

Under rules set by the Nevada Democratic Party, only casinos that have been organized by the most powerful labor group in Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, were selected as caucus sites.

Although I think it's a good move to ensure that these workers have the opportunity to participate, this troubles me:

"We believe that everyone has the ability to choose on their own, but normally we all try to stick together," said Jennifer Grote, 44, who works in food service at the Paris hotel-casino and will serve as a caucus captain on Election Day.

"You cannot divide union workers," added Leain Vashon, a bell captain at the Paris.

Any members who want to oppose their leadership and support another candidate will have to do so in front of their co-workers, wearing their casino-issued work clothes identifying themselves as members of the union.

As you've probably read by now, Obama has the endorsements of both the Culinary Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union. Clinton has the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers. As a former union member (and local representative), I know that a union's endorsement of a candidate means a great deal to its members. But I also know that union members are each still entitled to their own vote. The union endorses, but does not vote for its members. I don't know, I guess Las Vegas, casinos, gambling, money -- it all makes me a little uneasy. So I guess I wish someone had thought of this a little bit earlier so that it didn't come off as just sour grapes from the Clinton camp:

The same day, another union -- the Nevada State Education Association -- contended that Obama and the culinary workers are altogether too friendly, and asked a federal court to shut down the casino caucus sites because, the association said, they give preferential treatment to culinary union members.

State Democratic officials, who had been expecting the suit, said they had worked with each presidential campaign since last spring to craft the process, including the casino precincts, to drum up the largest turnout possible.

"The time for comment or complaint has passed," the state party said in a statement after the suit was filed by the teachers' union and several individuals.

Tour du Bush: What the world is saying

Sounds like the citizens of Bahrain have been thrilled with George W. Bush's visit:
He’ll probably fly in on a helicopter from some big tub floating in the Gulf, that the Iranians have taken an inexplicable fancy to all of a sudden, land in the naval base in Juffair, shake some hands, visit with some illustrious personages whom he will make sure they understand that Eye-Ran is pretty bad for their survival and that of the wouurld, tell them to expand the bases and use their facilities and airspace to tame the Eye-Ranians, just a bit, like, a couple of 10,000 lbs bombs strategically targeted at military and dangerous areas.

Easy peezy. No one on our side will be hurt.

Like Eye-Rack.

In and out job. And it is predestined and ordained, as the Big Guy told him.

And then his vision of a Destruction Crescent from Palestine to Afghanistan will become reality. An area that thenceforth will become known as Bushistan.

And then there's this message from blogger SoulSearch:

Dear Mr. President,

How would you feel if you had to live in a tent all your life, rummage thru the rubble of your home, watch strangers confiscate your property, and kill you son or daughter for suspecting them of supporting their freedom movements?
Wake up and smell the Palestinian +Iraqi blood spilling everywhere, or is it only OIL up your nostrils?

(Operation Iraqi Liberation = OIL)
Next on the Tour du Bush will be Saudi Arabia, land of women being sentenced to whipping for being raped, and bloggers being arrested for speaking out against the government. With Bush's record of lack of respect for women and free speech, he ought to feel right at home there.

For what it's worth

New poll out today from The Washington Post/ABC. Click on it for a larger image.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gwendolyn Britt, civil rights advocate, passes

We received sad the news today about the passing of a local civil rights advocate: Maryland State Senator Gwendolyn Britt died yesterday after suffering a heart attack. She was 66.

State and local advocates such as Ms. Britt are unsung heros, working not for the limelight but for what they know is right. Senator Britt was set to introduce legislation calling for Maryland to recognize Civil Marriages. From the Baltimore Sun:
Britt's political career began as a student activist at Howard University. In June 1960, Britt, then known as Gwendolyn Greene, walked into Montgomery County's then-segregated Glen Echo Park with several students and tried to ride the merry-go-round.

According to a Washington Post story about the confrontation, which sparked five days of protests, Britt was arrested for trespassing, spat upon and harassed by counter-picketers.

Britt knew the color line, she told the Post in 2004. At Hecht's, she could try on clothes but avoided Woodward & Lothrop because she could not.

Britt ended up leaving Howard to join the Freedom Riders, who were challenging Jim Crow laws in the South. The following year she spent 40 days in a Mississippi jail for sitting in a whites-only train station.
I taught middle school in Maryland until about 3 years ago, and I was constantly amazed that the students had no idea how recently institutionalized discrimination was the norm, even here in Maryland. We read a wonderful book called "In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson," (which I highly recommend -- even though it's no longer used because it doesn't particularly help students score better on the state-mandated No Child Left Behind tests ....) Trying to connect the story to their lives, I told my students that my mother couldn't have lunch with her best friend in the early fifties, because her friend was black. They were surprised. They had no connection to this time in our country's history.

Thank you and god bless you, Gwendolyn Britt. We will never forget the strength you displayed in the face of ignorance and discrimination.

Your Abu Dhabi update

Taking time off from his grueling mission delivering democracy throughout the Mid East, George Bush and his gal pal Condoleeza Rice enjoyed a feast fit for a king. Or at least a crown prince, as in  Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. AP reports:
Bush traded his suit for a casual jacket and took a helicopter as close as he could get to this remote encampment where Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, raises horses and prize falcons. His motorcade bumped over sand dunes for the last few miles, ending up at a tent pitched high on a wind-swept crest.

A tent with thick carpets, pillows for lounging, blazing lanterns, and food. Lots and lots of it, from bread with honey to grilled meats and sweets, all served by uniformed staff.
Before the feast with a small group of White House aides and Emirati elite, the crown prince showed the president around. Next to carpets laid on the sand stood small pedestals, each stuck in the sand like a beach umbrella and each holding a magnificent falcon.
Yes, that's what life is like in the desert. Just ask our troops in Iraq. Cake anyone?