Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Murdoch gets Wall Street Journal


Now, in all truth, we'll be able to say we read the Wall Street Journal for the pictures.

It's not a lull, it's a coma

Legendary radio consultant and XM programming guru Lee Abrams has a theory about intense periods and lulls in our culture. Fascinating stuff, and I think he's pretty spot on -- Abrams says we're in a "lull" period now.

Kelly Clarkson apologizes to Clive Davis. Huh? Actually it's typical in the "musical/cultural" lull period we are in. Lull periods are characterized by things like Business controlling artists (ulnike the opposite "Intense periods" where Artists drive things)...In lulls there's fashion over art; Boyfriend/girlfriend lyrics are in command; no major musical advances that make the prior generation of music nostalgic more than relevant; the "look" of artists is flashy but not scary...and the list goes on. Let's just say that we are SO in the American Idol era... It's actually a fascinating study of music and cultural trends over the past 50 years that I did...well, I think it's fascinating...I also know it's valid because I developed it in 1978 and it has been extremely accurate for the last 29 years in assessing and to a certain degree predicting trends. I guess I'll dive into it next blog. The point right now is that an artist apologizing to a label head is typical during a lull period--During an intense period (like 55, 64, 70, 80 or 93, A label head would bow to an artist that sells as many CD's as she does)...Can you imagine Elvis, The Beatles, Hendrix, the Police or Nirvana APOLOGIZING to a record company???!!!! Yeah--those are "big names" but any important artist from "intense" periods wouldn't even bother. More on this lull/intense thing later...but suffice to say, we are in a lull...
BUT IF YOU ALSO TAKE into consideration Abrams' other observation -- again, spot on -- about how utterly dumbed down our culture has become, it only follows that our lulls become almost as black holes and our "intense periods" are nothing to write home about. Abrams again:

I suppose the argument would be that it makes sense to duplicate a successful formula. Yeah—but this ain’t duplication…this is mindless sheep herding. Just as bad as terrestrial radio. No bitterness here—nothing to be bitter about---It’s more about the sheer amazement at the ongoing homogenization of media. America used to be the place where innovation drove the train. Now, with the exception of the Apples, HBO’s and a handful of others, there’s no engine..Just a lot of freight cars carrying a vacant message. That vacant message feeds junk culture and junk culture feeds mass stupidity…which...Ok—you see the domino effect. That’s scary..And that’s why I really believe in the NEED to innovate! –or at least TRY to innovate.
ME, I'M BEGINNING to wonder how, exactly, we're supposed to tell the lulls from the creative ferment. So to speak.

I also wonder whether we have become so dumbed down as a culture -- and this is equally or more true in the Church -- that by even trying to do what Abrams advises (that is, innovate) that the best one can hope for is a mere fruitless tilting at windmills as the collapse proceeds apace.

At worst. . . .

Two, four, six, eight, we can't spell matriculate!

NEWS ITEM (from the Sunday Advocate in Baton Rouge, La.):

Members of the Louisiana NAACP and nearly 100 protesters rallied Saturday at the State Capitol to demand the Board of Elementary and Secondary Schools end its “unlawful” policy of requiring fourth- and eighth-grade students to pass standardized tests for promotion to the next grade.

Amid choruses of “We Shall Overcome,” President Ernest Johnson of the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called use of the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program testing by BESE for grade promotion unlawful, unconstitutional and said it should be stopped.

Public school students in the fourth and eighth grades must pass the LEAP test before moving on to the next grade.

Johnson said more than 28,000 public school students failed the exit examination for the 2006-07 school year.

“There is no law in the state constitution that says our children have to take this test before they can pass,” Johnson said.

“I believe that what happened to the 28,000-plus children (who failed the LEAP test) is a curse for those kids and their families. It can’t be considered a blessing that you flunk a kid by a test that is not even required by law.”

Johnson asserted many schoolchildren fulfill their classroom requirements but are being held back because of LEAP test failure.

The protest rally was the second in two months staged on the Capitol steps by the NAACP.

(snip)

Helen Stewart, of Covington, said her grandson, Corey Turner Jr., failed the fourth-grade test at Pineview Middle School.

Stewart and her grandson stood before the protesters to speak.

“My grandson did fail the LEAP test and went through the eight-week remediation class,” Stewart said. “I don’t know to this date if he has passed.

“I would like to say to BESE that we are failing our kids, but we should have 27,999 parents here today to speak for their children.”

Vanessa Norman Rivet of Baton Rouge said her children have twice flunked the LEAP test.

“I teach my children to do their best, but when they’ve done their best and they come to you and still fail, what do you say?” Rivet said. “Academically, they have done what they have to do. Change is here today so I’m going to march on, run on and talk on until BESE hears what I have to say.”



* * *


Dear NAACP protesters,


A standardized test is not oppressing your children. It's a test; it merely measures whether or not your kids know some very basic things at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels.

If your kids and grandkids flunk, I would suggest three more likely reasons than Racist Oppression by Whitey:

1) They might be dumbasses.

2) You might be dumbasses who never read to your kids or take much interest in their academic achievement . . . until their dismal failure gives you a reason to mau-mau for the TV cameras.

3) Their schools might be rotten, a small detail you never noticed or raised a stink about because that would have taken away valuable time and energy from pursuing your constitutional right to perpetual victimhood.

Now, might I suggest you stop wasting your time and others' patience with silly protests blaming your youth's non-performance on everybody except those with whom the fault lies. In other words, sorry excuses for parents and a culture of diminished -- or no -- expectations.

I think pathetic protests such as the Louisiana NAACP's marches on the state capitol are graphic evidence of a culture of diminished -- or no -- expectations. If you really want better lives for your underachieving children -- and an actual future for the great majority of the state's African-American population -- I would suggest forgetting the P-R-O-T-E-S-T and start thinking more along the lines of S-Y-L-V-A-N.

Or perhaps L-I-B-R-A-R-Y.

In its long history, the NAACP has fought for noble and serious causes. Its members have suffered greatly for principles like the colorblindness of human dignity and equality under the law.

But if one insists upon the full rights of citizenship, one has no moral standing to shirk its accompanying responsibilities. And it would seem that being accountable for one's actions -- or scholastic inaction -- is so simple, even a child could do it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

When TV was smart . . . and human





Tom Snyder is dead. If that doesn't matter to you -- if you don't know who Tom Snyder was -- you are the poorer for it.

In the '70s and '80s, Snyder's Tomorrow came on after Johnny Carson signed off at midnight. And if you stayed up, you were usually in for interesting conversations -- back when people on TV had interesting conversations, as opposed to infomercials for their just-released whatever.

Sometimes Snyder's conversations were hilarious, sometimes awkward, sometimes just this side of a televised streetfight, most of the time wonderfully quirky. All of them bathed in swirling wisps of cigarette smoke.

Above, we have three YouTube clips of Snyder Does Punk. First, a couple of delicious 1980 segments where the King of the Colortini exposes the Artist Formerly Known as Johnny Rotten for the overgrown-adolescent poseur he was, and then a 1981 interview with The Clash.

Tom Snyder could do "straight" interviews with the best of them. But Snyder at his best usually had little to do with "straight" interviewing. At his best, Tom Snyder was your brilliant, smart-assed uncle, telling funny stories and engaging in verbal swordplay with fascinating guests in from the fringes of somewhere or something.

All of it, as noted, bathed in swirling wisps of cigarette smoke.

Tom Snyder was bigger than life, as evidenced by Dan Aykroyd's hilarious Saturday Night Live parodies of Tomorrow, and our culture is diminished by his passing.

Los Miserables

Cecilia Guevara, 39, sat in the Sarpy County Jail as her 16-year-old daughter and two grandchildren died Wednesday morning after their Bellevue, Neb., townhouse went up in flames.

Guevara was locked up awaiting trial on third-offense shoplifting charges, a felony. She couldn't come up with $1,000 to get out of jail.

Meanwhile, Cecilia's elder daughter, 20-year-old Jolynna Kaiser, was volunteering at a local food bank as her two children and her teen-age sister, babysitting at the time, were trapped by the thick smoke and flames. Guevara's three youngest children and a neighbor baby escaped the fire.

Authorities placed the surviving kids in foster care, with their ultimate placement to be decided later this week. Relatives are trying to get custody.

"MAN," YOU MUST BE WONDERING, "what kind of felonious miscreant must this jailbird Cecilia Guevara be? Felony shoplifting? Did she shoplift a Hummer? A hi-def plasma TV? An entire Walgreens?"

Saturday's article in the Omaha World-Herald answered some of those questions. The byline said Christopher Burbach, but I'm thinking it was really the ghost of Victor Hugo, because I'm definitely picking up a strong Jean Valjean vibe, here:

Cecilia Guevara, 39, was in the Sarpy County Jail at the time of the fire. She had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting two coolers, four squirt guns, five swimming toys, nine toy pails and other items July 4 from a Dollar General store in Bellevue. The merchandise totaled $81.

"I had five kids and no money," she said Friday. "It was the Fourth of July. I just wanted them to have some fun."

She said a chaplain and sergeant broke the news of the fire to her in the jail shortly after it occurred.

"The sergeant was crying with me, telling me, 'We're going to get you out of here,'" Guevara said. "And they did."

While still in jail, a caller from the hospital told her that her grandchildren were still alive. She had some hope they would live, she said.

"Ten minutes later, they called back and said 'They just took their last breaths together,'" Guevara said.

Ironically, a hair tie and a ring were the only two possessions of her own returned to Guevara when she was released from jail.

Her ring matched Alma's. They were gag items that they had ordered through the mail because they were supposed to attract money. Cecilia Guevara, Alma and Kaiser all wore the rings.

"We were so tired of always being broke," Guevara said.
EIGHTY. ONE. DOLLARS. In toys.

Nebraska is a crappy state in which to be poor and desperate. Read this story, if you have any doubts.

Upon Guevara's release, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said springing the grieving mother and grandmother was the right move.

"Compassion would dictate that if there's a consideration that can be made, it ought to be made," he told the World-Herald.

How about this, Mr. Sends People Up the River Over 81 Bucks? How about you just drop all charges against this poverty-stricken women who just lost a big chunk of her family?

After all, wouldn't compassion "dictate" she's damn well suffered enough?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lyrics! We got lyrics!

As promised, here are the lyrics to Dégénérations by Mes Aïeux, both en français et en anglais (in French and in English):


DÉGÉNÉRATIONS
(S. Archambault, Mes Aïeux / S. Archambault, Mes Aïeux)


Ton arrière-arrière-grand-père, il a défriché la terre
Ton arrière-grand-père, il a labouré la terre
Et pis ton grand-père a rentabilisé la terre
Pis ton père, il l'a vendue pour devenir fonctionnaire

Et pis toi, mon p'tit gars, tu l'sais pus c'que tu vas faire
Dans ton p'tit trois et demi bien trop cher, frette en hiver
Il te vient des envies de devenir propriétaire
Et tu rêves la nuit d'avoir ton petit lopin de terre

Ton arrière-arrière-grand-mère, elle a eu quatorze enfants
Ton arrière-grand-mère en a eu quasiment autant
Et pis ta grand-mère en a eu trois c'tait suffisant
Pis ta mère en voulait pas ; toi t'étais un accident

Et pis toi, ma p'tite fille, tu changes de partenaire tout l'temps
Quand tu fais des conneries, tu t'en sauves en avortant
Mais y'a des matins, tu te réveilles en pleurant
Quand tu rêves la nuit d'une grande table entourée d'enfants

Ton arrière-arrière-grand-père a vécu la grosse misère
Ton arrière-grand-père, il ramassait les cennes noires
Et pis ton grand-père - miracle ! - est devenu millionnaire
Ton père en a hérité, il l'a tout mis dans ses RÉERs

Et pis toi, p'tite jeunesse, tu dois ton cul au ministère
Pas moyen d'avoir un prêt dans une institution bancaire
Pour calmer tes envies de hold-uper la caissière
Tu lis des livres qui parlent de simplicité volontaire

Tes arrière-arrière-grands-parents, ils savaient comment fêter
Tes arrière-grands-parents, ça swignait fort dans les veillées
Pis tes grands-parents ont connu l'époque yé-yé
Tes parents, c'tait les discos ; c'est là qu'ils se sont rencontrés

Et pis toi, mon ami, qu'est-ce que tu fais de ta soirée ?
Éteins donc ta tivi ; faut pas rester encabané
Heureusement que dans' vie certaines choses refusent de changer
Enfile tes plus beaux habits car nous allons ce soir danser...



Stéphane Archambault: Voix
Éric Desranleau: Voix
Frédéric Giroux: Voix
Marie-Hélène Fortin: Voix
Marc-André Paquet: Batterie, percussions
Benoît Archambault: Voix


* * *


DÉGÉNÉRATIONS
(S. Archambault, Mes Aïeux / S. Archambault, Mes Aïeux)


Your great-great-grandfather, he has cleared the land
Your great-grandfather, he has ploughed the land
And then your grandfather, made money with the land
And then your father sold it, to become a state employee

And then you lil' guy, you don’t know what you will do
In your small apartment, too expensive and cold in winter
You have desires, to become a home owner
And you dream at night, of owning your little piece of land . . .

Your great-great-grandmother, gave birth to 14 children
Your great-grandmother, had almost as many
And then your grandmother, had only 3, it was enough
And then your mother didn’t want any, you were an accident

And then you lil' girl, you swap partners all the time
When you’re in trouble, you save yourself by aborting
But on some mornings, you wake-up crying
When you dream at night . . . of a large table surrounded by children

Your great-great-grandfather has lived in extreme poverty
Your great-grandfather, he saved every penny
And then your grandfather -- miracle -- has become a millionaire
Your father inherited and put it all in his RRSP

And then you lil' youth, you owe your ass to the government
There’s no way you can have a loan, at a financial institution
To calm your desire to hold up the cashier
You read books about voluntary simplicity . . .

Your great-great-grandparents knew how to celebrate
Your great-grandparents were swinging hard in the parties
And then your grandparents live the Yé-Yé era
For your parents it was the Discos; that is where they met

And then you, my friend, what are you doing tonight?
Shut off your T.V.; you shouldn’t stay locked inside
It’s a good thing that in life some things refuse to change
Put on your nicest clothes ‘cause we’re going out to dance


Stéphane Archambault: Vocals
Éric Desranleau: Vocals
Frédéric Giroux: Vocals
Marie-Hélène Fortin: Vocals
Marc-André Paquet: Drums, percussion
Benoît Archambault: Vocals

What's the Big Show worth to you?

So . . . what is the Big Show worth to you?

Is it worth telling people about Revolution 21?

Is the podcast worth creating a little word-of-mouth action?

Is not being hit up for money worth helping your Mighty Favog advertise the Revolution 21 empire for free (that's where the word-of-mouth comes in) -- in both its podcast and blog domains?


HERE'S THE DEAL, most explicitly. Revolution 21 is an experiment in how to live a faithful Christian life while also living out one's vocation as a media type. It's not bait-and-switch evangelization -- though it would be most excellent if we accidentally said or did or played something that causes you to consider Christ and His Church.

No, Revolution 21 is both bigger and smaller than that. It's about being faithful while being relevant. It's about being intelligent while being Catholic. It's about reclaiming the Church's (in its broad sense) place at the cultural table, a place we as Christians (and particularly Catholics) forfeited because we went all metaphysically Gnostic, in that we thought we could seperate our faith from how we live.

From how we work.

From how we interact with the world.

From how we commit culture.

Cultural pursuits became merely utilitarian . . . that is, trying to bait-and-switch you onto Our Team.


Revolution 21 is not about that. Faith is more important than a cosmic contest. Revolution 21 is about being faithful. About being authentically human. About having one foot in Heaven and one foot in the muck of humanity.

Revolution 21 is here as, hopefully, something intelligent yet accessible that can be a refuge for Christians and a friendly place to hang out even if you're not.

LIKE I SAID, it's an experiment. Maybe no one wants such a thing. Maybe it's before its time -- or has come too late.
One way or the other, I need to find out.

Do you think this place on the Internet has some value? Let people know if you do. Let ME know if you do. I know I'm being kind of "out there," and, frankly, it's kind of lonely out here . . . Out There.

Obviously, I think what we're doing here has some merit. I think the show's pretty decent, and that your Mighty Favog isn't totally offputting as a host.

Than again, I could be horribly wrong. Lots of people are horribly wrong about things they're passionate about and committed to. It's a sad thing, but it happens.

But I gotta know. Revolution 21 is going to start to grow, or it's going to go away because no one can tilt at windmills forever. Time is fleeting, and life is short.

So, what do you think?

At least I didn't hit you up for any cash, right?


OH, I ALMOST FORGOT . . . the new episode of The Big Show is a dang fine one, if I do say so myself. But like I said, I could be wrong about these things.

But I don't think so.

Anyway, judge for yourself. You can download it here, or just go to the player at the top of this page.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mau-mauing while Rome bleeds to death

Some black ministers in New Orleans (Yes, I'm writing about New Orleans again, because it's the greatest collection of Flannery O'Connor stories since the death of Flannery O'Connor.) are upset that the White Man is pickin' on a pore brother, the incompetent and embattled district attorney, Eddie Jordan.

They want the White Man to stop it, because it's racist. They're standing behind their Black Man, for he is Not White.

Meanwhile, New Orleans' young African-American men -- mostly -- still are being gunned down at a shocking rate, and on the odd chance the city's Keystone Cops catch the perps, there's an even odder chance that Jordan can prosecute them successfully. But that's not important now.

Getting outraged at whitey is. The Times-Picayune reported on this outbreak of unholy insanity Wednesday:

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, called upon recently by a city councilwoman to resign, got a solid vote of confidence Tuesday from black ministers who said he has done an outstanding job with the resources of his office and is being unfairly blamed for the city's high murder rate.

The 13 ministers who gathered at a Central City church to voice their support of the DA belong to the Ideal Missionary Baptist Association, founded in 1937. Its membership consists of 30 pastors of Baptist churches across the city.

It was the Rev. Joseph C. Profit Sr., the association's president, who laid out the group's case for being in Jordan's corner.

For starters, Profit said, New Orleans' high murder rate is nothing new. It was also high in the years before Jordan became the first African-American DA in the city's history, he said.

But when Jordan's predecessors were in office, Profit said, "No one cried out for their resignation or threatened impeachment." The difference, he said, is that the former DA's were all white.

Jordan, who'd been seated with the ministers during their news conference at the Passing Onward Baptist Church, 2414 Danneel St., rose to thank them, calling them "integral spokesmen in their own right about the conditions in the city."
I THINK I CAN EXPLAIN the reality of what's happening here with a small parable.

Say, for example, there is an old redneck farmer working his plot of vegetables one day, and that plot happens to lie within 100 yards or so of the railroad tracks. Now, the old man isn't exacty racist -- he doesn't think about black folk much one way or the other, but he's not exactly the most politically correct fella in the world, either.

Usually, this isn't a problem for him out in the sticks. He keeps to himself and, anyway, those he runs into are pretty much old rednecks like himself.

But on this day, as he's working his vegetable plot, the old farmer spies a young African-American man walking down the railroad tracks, oblivious to the world. And to the 5:30 freight barreling toward him a quarter-mile down the line.

The young guy's back is to the train. Like I said, he's oblivious to the rumbling. Oblivious to the blaring horn.

Startled, the redneck farmer starts running toward the young man on the tracks, at least as fast as a 77-year-old can run. He's yelling at the top of his lungs.

"Hey, boy! Get off the tracks! You're gonna get hit by the train! Boy! GET OFF THE TRACKS! Hey! BOY!"

THE YOUNG MAN snaps out of it, now fully alert. He glares at the old white man, his eyes flashing with pure fury.

The farmer is screaming as loudly as he can, still running toward what, to him, is a young boy about to get smushed by a train.

"BOY! GET OFF THE TRACKS! YOU"RE GONNA GET SMUSHED! RUN!!!"

The young man, his face contorted with rage, yells back at the old man as the train -- horn wailing, air brakes squealing -- bears down on his back.

"WHO YOU CALLIN' 'BOY,' MOTHERF. . . ."

The farmer, screaming, turns his head away at the instant of impact.

Éteignez les lumières, le partie est fini

Click on the picture for video.

It would have been, perhaps, better -- and much less painful, ultimately . . . and much less deadly, ultimately -- if New Orleans had just been finished off once and for all by the Federal Flood in the wake of Katrina.

La Nouvelle Orleans, elle est mort. But the corpse is still twitching -- some. I'm told that sometimes happens, but the decedent is still quite dead.

I had held out some faint hope that what's left of the once-grand city would avoid becoming another Camden -- or Gary -- only much, much worse. But you know it's over when the cops are saying stuff like this without the faintest hint of irony or black humor:

"I think people can take some comfort in knowing that it was a random act of violence," said Sgt. Joe Narcisse, and NOPD spokesman. "I think the residents will tell you that the neighborhood is pretty safe, it's rare to have crime in this neighborhood, especially violent crime."
WHAT NEW ORLEANIANS are supposed to "take some comfort" in is that a Colorado contractor who moved to the city to help in the rebuilding got himself carjacked, shot in the face and killed in one of its "pretty safe" neighborhoods. I think you would call that "cold comfort" -- as in, "A hell of a guy who was minding his own business now lies on a shelf that slides into a big refrigerator in the Orleans Parish morgue."

If the cops ever catch who put Tony White on that shelf, in the fridge, in the morgue -- and that's pretty damned unlikely, given it's the New Orleans Police Department we're talking about, here -- you can run down to Harrah's down by the river off of Canal Street and make book that District Attorney Eddie Jordan will never convict the SOB.

And when that becomes the daily reality of an already poor, already devastated city, who the hell will want to move there? Who the hell already there and in their right mind will stick it out?

NOT MANY PEOPLE any sane city planner would covet having there, that's for damn sure.

Here's the sad, sad story from WWL television:

The murder of a man who had relocated to New Orleans to help the city rebuild is the city’s 108th of the year and it’s the final straw for his wife and some of his friends, who say they are headed out, driven from a city they love by out of control crime.

Tony White, a contractor who moved from Colorado after Katrina, was killed early Thursday morning while returning from work. Police believe he was the victim of a random carjacking.

"He'd come home about 2 in the morning, minding his own business,” said his wife Tammy. “He was the nicest guy. If they wanted his wallet, he would have given it to him. But they took our jeep and killed him. That's the call I got."

Tammy White said her husband was planning to get out of the construction management business and the couple was going to open a photography studio.

His wife said Tony often worried about crime. Authorities say he was coming home from a job around 3 a.m. when he was shot once in the face in a neighborhood that is normally considered a safe one.

“He was the greatest man,” said his wife. “He was my best friend. The kids and grandkids just idolized him. He was it, and for those guys to snuff out a life like that is pitiful.”

Tammy White says she is leaving as soon as she can.

Brad Robinson, who is White’s friend and landlord, said he is also going to move from a city he no longer considers safe.

“I’m finished. I’m finished with the city of New Orleans,” he said. “As soon as me and my wife can liquidate our assets, our rental properties and our businesses, we’re leaving.”

Detectives believe it was a carjacking and said the murder appeared to be random.

"I think people can take some comfort in knowing that it was a random act of violence," said Sgt. Joe Narcisse, and NOPD spokesman. "I think the residents will tell you that the neighborhood is pretty safe, it's rare to have crime in this neighborhood, especially violent crime."

High as a kite . . . and then some

Click on the picture for video.

"Honest occifer . . . I only had tee
martoonis. I can sly dis thing
in my fleep. Rully! (Hic!)"

IT IS A GOOD THING to still have old-timers like NBC's Jay Barbree on the space beat -- or any beat -- to add much-needed institutional knowledge, perspective and dang amusing anecdotes to flesh out the big stories of the day.

And I would tell you what that perspective and really funny anecdote was, but that might keep you from clicking on the photo to see Barbree tell it himself on MSNBC.

This is the gist of the story Barbree fleshes out for us:

A panel has found that astronauts were allowed to fly on at least two occasions despite warnings they were so drunk they posed a flight risk, sources familiar with the panel's report said Thursday.

Aviation Week also reported that the independent panel set up by NASA to study astronaut health issues found evidence of "heavy use of alcohol" before launch that was within the standard 12-hour "bottle-to-throttle" rule. Flight surgeons and other astronauts warned that drunken astronauts posed a flight risk when they flew on the two known occasions, according to the publication.

A source who has seen the panel's draft report confirmed that it referred to the two occasions — but noted that the claims were based strictly on anecdotal reports, rather than hard evidence such as blood tests. The source spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity because NASA did not provide authorization to discuss the report.

The report came to light even as NASA was dealing with an alleged case of space-computer sabotage, and served to highlight the challenges facing the space agency as it moves from the "right stuff" stereotypes of its past into a less forgiving future.

"Astronauts used to get away with all manner of rule-breaking back in the 1980s and 1990s, when NASA top managers used the astronaut office as their auxiliary drinking team, baseball team and dating service," said NBC News space analyst James Oberg, a 22-year veteran of NASA's Mission Control. "That has largely been cleaned up under the last two administrators."

Nevertheless, controversies still crop up: Most notably, astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested in February and is facing assault charges for confronting a romantic rival. That sensational case sparked NASA to authorize the independent panel investigation as well as an internal review of the space agency's astronaut screening procedures.

Sources said that the panel's draft report does not address Nowak's case directly or mention any other astronaut by name.

A spokeswoman at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the astronaut corps is based, would not comment on the report. The space agency said it would release the findings of "two reviews regarding astronaut medical and behavioral health assessments" at a press conference on Friday in Washington.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human spaceflight, rebuffed repeated inquiries about the report Thursday during a news briefing on the shuttle Endeavour's upcoming launch. He said he had not personally dealt with any instances of drunken behavior during a shuttle mission. "There's not been a disciplinary action or anything I've been involved with regarding this type of activity," he said
.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HALLELUJAH! Pope rebukes Twits for Jesus

If you were a space alien beamed over from the planet Zorkon to observe the "Christianity phenomenon," what would you conclude -- absent any extensive knowledge of historical Christian belief, liturgy, music and art? How would you evaluate the bad lounge-lizardry that passes for liturgical (or "praise") music? What would you make of the banal, Stuart Smalleyesque lyrical content?

What would you think if you went to your neighborhood Lifeway or local Catholic bookstore to peruse what Christians were reading about? What would you make of the gaudy, tacky and superficial "Jesus junk" cluttering the display space?

What would you think of this "Christianity phenomenon" by observing how it interacted -- both intellectually and on a grassroots, practical level -- with the secular spheres of letters, philosophy, science and art?

What conclusions would you draw when you compared and contrasted "Christian" contemporary music, books, television and film with the best of their "secular" counterparts?

AND HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN the phenomenon of "Bible-believing" Christians -- and their counterparts among "orthodox" Catholics -- who can look at almost two centuries of the fossil record supporting the evolution of species and the antiquity of humanity and its humanoid ancestors -- and find it easier to believe the Earth is 6,000-odd years old and all of science is out to get God rather than that perhaps they've been taking Genesis literally when it was meant to be taken metaphorically?

Then again, some of these folks are just as adept at taking parts of the Bible -- like John 6 -- metaphorically despite numerous clues it was meant to be taken quite literally.

It would appear that, when it comes to the whole evolution-creationism debate, Pope Benedict XVI has been thinking like a Zorkonite, concluding that a lot of us are just plain goofy.

According to
this MSNBC story, Benedict has declared "the debate raging in some countries — particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an 'absurdity,' saying that evolution can coexist with faith."

HALLELUJAH! The Church has been saying this for a while now, but it's always nice to have the Holy Father restate -- forcefully -- the freakin' obvious. When we've taught religious education to eighth-graders, Mrs. Favog and I have gotten used to the disbelieving looks when we tell the kiddos that the Church has no particular problem with the concept of evolution . . . so long as there's room for the Almighty in there somewhere.

Which is what the pope has just restated (while making sense on climate change as well):

The pontiff, speaking as he was concluding his holiday in northern Italy, also said that while there is much scientific proof to support evolution, the theory could not exclude a role by God.

“They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other,” the pope said. “This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

He said evolution did not answer all the questions: “Above all it does not answer the great philosophical question, ‘Where does everything come from?’”

Benedict also said the human race must listen to “the voice of the Earth” or risk destroying its very existence.

The pope is wrapping up a three-week private holiday in the majestic mountains of northern Italy, where residents are alarmed by the prospect of climate change that can alter their way of life.

“We all see that today man can destroy the foundation of his existence, his Earth,” he said in a closed door meeting with 400 priests on Tuesday. A full transcript of the two-hour event was issued on Wednesday.

“We cannot simply do what we want with this Earth of ours, with what has been entrusted to us,” said the pope, who has been spending his time reading and walking in the scenic landscape bordering Austria.
NOW THAT THE CHURCH has spoken common sense -- again -- about the Evolution Wars, can we start working on how we engage the culture as people of God?

Jesus, being fully God, happened to be the smartest and most cultured human being Who ever lived. With that as a given, can we as His followers now just stop acting like the half-witted side of the human family, all too eager to show up to the fancy cocktail party wearing our ABREADCRUMB AND FISH T-shirts and telling people to pull our cross?

Cool cat warms up to dying patients

Be nice to all of God's creatures, because there's a lot more going on with "dumb animals" than you might think. Sometimes, they turn out to be smarter than us.

A lot of the time, they turn out to be kinder than us.


AND ONCE IN A WHILE, they turn out to be both. God can work with that, as this Associated Press story from Providence, R.I., so ably illustrates:

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.
"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third- floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. "This is not a cat that's friendly to people," he said.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.
I'M A DOG PERSON, but Oscar the Cat is all right by me. I think Molly and Scout, the Imperial Dogs, would make an exception and agree with their master.

I know how to make them talk


The New York Times
reports
there's a showdown a comin' between Congress and the White House over executive privilege:

The House Judiciary Committee voted today to seek contempt of Congress citations against a top aide to President Bush and a former presidential aide over their refusal to cooperate in an inquiry about the firing of federal prosecutors.

The 22-to-17 vote along party lines escalates the battle between the administration and Congressional Democrats over the dismissals of nine United States attorneys last year, an episode that Democrats say needs airing but that many Republicans say is much ado about nothing.

“It’s not a step that, as chairman, I take easily or lightly,” the head of the panel, Representative John D. Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, said before the committee voted to cite Joshua B. Bolten, the president’s chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel.

To take effect, the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation must be voted upon by the full House, where Democrats have a 231-to-201 edge, with 3 vacancies. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not said whether she would seek House action before the lawmakers recess in early August, or allow the issue to simmer until the House reconvenes after Labor Day.

(snip)

The White House has refused, on the grounds of executive privilege, to make Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers available for sworn testimony before Congress. To do so, the White House argues, could stifle frank, confidential advice to the president, and future presidents, by their closest advisers.

THAT'S THE NUB OF THE FIGHT. The thing is, Congress is faced with a Catch-22: It can't make the Executive Branch enforce the contempt citation against itself. That's a problem as sticky as the executive branch faces with "What do we do with fall-between-the-cracks 'enemy combatants'?"

The Times again:

In the event that the full House voted contempt citations against Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers, the next legal step would be a referral to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia (a Bush appointee) for prosecution.

But there is a further complication: the White House asserted last week that the law does not permit Congress to require a United States attorney to convene a grand jury or otherwise pursue a prosecution when someone refuses on the basis of executive privilege to testify or turn over documents. That stance was repeated in a Justice Department letter to the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, I have a modest proposal for the House. I submit that representatives be every bit as creative as has the Executive Branch in dealing with "enemy combatants" and terror suspects.

First, the House needs to beef up the sergeant-at-arms office with a couple of crack units made up of former special-ops soldiers. Then the speaker's office needs to sign an order giving the sergeant at arms the power to carry out "renditions" against recalcitrant White House aides and former aides.

When Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers have been seized successfully from the streets of Washington (or perhaps Dallas, if Miers has tried to flee the long arm of the House), they could be taken to a secret offshore House facility, where they would be forced to maintain stress positions, be deprived of sleep and -- if all else failed -- be subjected to waterboarding until the gave up the goods on the president.

I don't know that President Bush could make any plausible objection to the practice, since he has declared rendition, offshore detention facilities and "enhanced interrogation techniques" as Not Torture and ordered that We Not Torture.

Which House goons deputy sergeants-at-arms would not be doing, because We Don't Torture, because "enhanced interrogation techniques" ain't torture (no matter what we thought after World War II, when we imprisoned Germans and Japanese for being equally "enhanced"), because the president and the attorney general say they ain't.

I mean, what would be the prob? No Big Whoop. Elegant and creative solution.

Right?

Don't try to buy cigarettes on Bourbon Street


If you're a drug-dealing gang-banger who counters stiff price competition by emptying a Glock 9 into your rival vendor's head, you're sitting pretty in New Orleans. On the odd chance the city's Keystone Rambos catch you, everybody knows that District Attorney Eddie Jordan can't make the charges stick.

Likewise, if you're one of New Orleans' (ahem) "finest," you can beat the snot out of whomever you want, for whatever reason you want -- or no reason if you want -- and reasonably expect that no judge there will convict you. Oh, sure, you might get canned if the press raises enough of a stink and makes the city enough of a laughingstock around the globe. But that won't keep you from a reasonably lucrative second career as, say, security at a Crescent City strip club.


And think of the fringe benefits -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Know what I mean? Say no more!

But if you're an African-American retired schoolteacher, do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- venture onto Bourbon Street in search of smokes. You are one dangerous @#+^@*!&#%#*, and the cops can legally kick your ass.

As we read in Tuesday's Times-Picayune, it's an established legal precedent:

A police officer fired from the New Orleans Police Department for the post-Katrina beating of a retired school teacher was cleared of criminal wrongdoing on Tuesday, declared "not guilty" of battery and false imprisonment by Judge Frank Marullo.

The incident on Bourbon Street five weeks after the storm received international attention, as parts of the altercation between several law enforcement officers and Robert Davis, 66, was captured by two cameramen and broadcast around the world. The tape was often referred to as the prime exhibit of the post-Katrina struggles of a police department with a long history of police brutality.

But both the defense and prosecutors said the tapes bolstered their cases.

Marullo sided with the defense, saying that instead of the brutal beating decried by prosecutors, the video showed that Davis was resisting the officers' attempts to handcuff him. Robert Evangelist, who graduated from the NOPD training academy in October 2003, didn't use excessive force, the judge concluded after Evangelist had opted not to have a jury trial.

"I don't even find it was a close call. I saw five minutes of struggling to put on the cuffs," Marullo said, of the scenes in the video that shows Davis pushed against a wall with two officers behind him and, then, on the ground grappling with four police officers, each trying to grab a different part of his body. Two of those officers turned out to be FBI agents who were helping patrol the streets of New Orleans in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Davis, who was 64 years old on Oct. 8, 2005, testified that he was staying at a downtown hotel with his family after the storm and often took walks after dinner. That night, around 8 p.m., he wandered onto Bourbon Street in search of cigarettes, he testified. Confused about the time of the city's curfew, Davis said he asked a mounted police officer what time people were expected to get off the streets.

Instead of being answered by that officer, Davis was approached by Evangelist, who was on a foot patrol on Bourbon Street. Davis said Evangelist and another officer walked between him and the officer on the horse. He recalled saying outloud that the two officers were "ignorant, unprofessional and rude."

After he walked away, Davis said he recalled someone run up behind him, throw him against a wall and punch him. At that point, the officer behind Davis called him a racial slur, he said, adding, "You know I can kick your ass."

Evangelist, 37, who took the stand in his own defense, had a different recollection, denying the racial slur and saying Davis called him a swearword. Evangelist said shrugged off the insult, but thought Davis appeared intoxicated and in need of some assistance. He said the man had "bumped into" the back of a mounted police horse.

At that point, Evangelist said he put his hands on Davis to guide him out of the street and onto a sidewalk, so they could talk. Evangelist recalled that Davis elbowed him in the chest, became belligerent and would not submit to being "patted down." Davis pushed himself away from the wall he was facing and Evangelist recalled pushing back.

"He was strong," the former officer testified.

At that point, Evangelist and another officer, Lance Schilling, were trying to handcuff Davis. Schilling, who committed suicide last month, had also been charged by District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office for the beating.

Under cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Cate Bartholomew, Evangelist said one of the most memorable sequences in the videotape was Schilling striking Davis several times in the back of the neck to get him to submit to handcuffing.

Evangelist also admitted to "striking" Davis twice on the right elbow with an expandable baton and, when the retired teacher was on the ground, attempting to strike him on the right shoulder and also kicking him on the shoulder. All of these actions were taken to handcuff Davis, he said.

Two defense experts testified that the amount of force used by Evangelist was within reasonable bounds.

"My belief in watching the video is the officer had sufficient cause to escalate more quickly than he did," said Major Kerry Najolia, the director of the Jefferson Parish sheriff's training academy, who testified on behalf of the defendant. "Officers Evangelist and Schilling used a tremendous amount of restraint."

During her closing arguments, Bartholomew pointed to the severity of Davis' injuries, captured on the videotape in the pool of blood surrounding the man. An Oschner doctor testified he suffered a broken nose, as well as another broken face bone, and required multiple stitches to close lacerations on his face.

Two eyewitnesses called by the prosecution said they recalled the police officers repeatedly punching Davis in the body and face. Michael Monaghan said that as he and a friend were walking down Bourbon Street, they came upon officers beating a man. He described seeing Davis "knocked to the ground," and then multiple officers trying to get a hold of various parts of the man. One of the law enforcement officers kicked the back of Davis' head, said Monaghan, of Florida.

Debbie Clyne of Vancouver, British Columbia, who was in town working with non-profit organizations, said that when Davis was up against the wall she saw several officers punching him repeatedly. "I went up to them and yelled at them to stop," she said.

Defense attorney Franz Zibilich questioned the veracity of these witnesses, saying the things they described were not on the videotape.

"This video screams and hollers two words: those words are not guilty," Zibilich said in his closing argument.

But Bartholomew argued in her closing that what the video showed was Evangelist trying to unlawfully detain Davis with handcuffs. This amounted to false imprisonment, the prosecutor said. The beatings that Evangelist incurred were sufficient to merit a guilty verdict for second-degree battery, she added.

Bartholomew also acknowledged that the case is a politically loaded one, saying that whatever Marullo decides will be criticized. "If you find him guilty, it will signal the NOPD is corrupt. If you find him not guilty, it supports the public's contention that the NOPD can get away with anything," she said. "I ask for a fair and just verdict in this case."
REMEMBER, forewarned is forearmed in a time when New Orleans can't govern itself according to First World standards, and when that doesn't particularly trouble your national government.

Hey, let's be careful out there.

Stupid is as stupid never learns


Funny I should stumble on a post on the Boar's Head Tavern blog, praising the praise the executive director of Mars Hill Audio gave to the excellent commencement address National Endowment for the Arts chief Dana Gioia gave to new Stanford graduates on a subject Mrs. Favog and I were discussing just the other night.

(Pausing to catch my breath after that lede.)

Anyway, I was telling my lovely and patient wife that despite growing up pretty much white trash in the 1960s and '70s, I had gotten a vastly superior cultural foundation than kids today are getting. One vastly superior to even those Millennials who have lots more money than I had, much better schools than I had, lots brighter parents than I had and stunningly more advanced knowledge resources than any of us back then could have dreamed of.

For example, by the time I hit high school, I was pretty well familiar with large swaths of the popular culture of my parents' generation and before. I could tell you about Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Walter Winchell and The Shadow.

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

I had heard of -- and even seen -- luminaries like Leonard Bernstein, Beverly Sills and Vladimir Horowitz.

Today, you're shooting craps if you expect a 14-year-old to know who someone as seemingly culturally ubiquitous as Bruce Springsteen is. I know this. I have mentioned Springsteen to a room of teens and gotten blank stares.

I also had, by the time I was in high school, learned to love -- gasp! -- my parents' music: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, the Dorseys (brothers Tommy and Jimmy). Never did acquire my folks' taste for Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo, but I couldn't escape Welk's TV show every week . . . no matter how desperately my adolescent self desired to say "Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen . . . good night!"

AND PERHAPS that was the key. Couldn't escape. There were three networks, and much of what was on was a smorgasbord -- a little something for everyone. My parents knew enough about "my music" to hate it.

I knew enough about their music to eventually figure out it didn't all suck.

Actually, I figured that out pretty early on; I literally grew up playing my folks' old 78 RPM records. Their 45s, too. From about age four on, I was playing Hank Williams and Red Foley. Louis Jordan and Jerry Lee Lewis. Jim Reeves and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

And The King, Elvis Presley. My mother, a good 12 years' Elvis' senior, was gaga for the guy.

My generation's cultural formation wasn't all due to limited choices, however. Partly it was due to fame being based on talent or newsworthiness, as opposed to mere notoriety. As in notorious.

Dana Gioia, the NEA chairman, expanded on this point at Stanford:

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.

I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.

Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.

The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young.

There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

Of course, I'm not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics "show business for ugly people."

Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.

I have a recurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the "Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.

When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?

Don't get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.

The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong enough to counterbalance this profit-driven commercialization of cultural values, our educational system, especially public education. Traditionally, education has been one thing that our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace—but made mandatory and freely available to everyone.

At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training.

I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available to the new generation of Americans. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners, and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.

In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we experienced this colossal cultural and political decline? There are several reasons, but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.

This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social, and political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals, and they need to reestablish their rightful place in the general culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public, the results would not only transform society but also artistic and intellectual life.
AMEN. And I, too, am missing The Ed Sullivan Show.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Race to the abyss

HOLLYWOOD (R21) -- Lindsay Lohan vaulted back into a coke spoon-length lead Tuesday over archrival Britney Spears in the Deviant Divas Death Derby, parlaying her latest arrest -- this time on DUI and felony cocaine charges -- into needed momentum to nose ahead of the Toxic singer.

Unless publication of Brit's reportedly catastrophic interview with OK! Weekly prompts the Bayou Boozehound into a celebrity suicide resulting in an upcoming tragi-biopic TV miniseries, the serious jail time that La Lohan might merit could make her narrow lead insurmountable.

Hollywood celebrity observers also note Lohan also could win the DDDD competition outright by staging a spectacular suicide -- probably a long shot so long as she remains in the secure rehab facility she checked into following the new Santa Moinica felony arrest.

Experts also note that La Lohan's swift Blow-Blotto Maneuver -- which propelled the Parent Trap and Mean Girls star past Spears, whose recent slap fight with her mother failed to safeguard her DDDD lead -- carries with it the seeds of possible defeat.

"What if the rehab takes this time?" asked one celebrity watcher who requested anonymity. "What if the little skank really sobers up, faces the music and becomes the next Kirk Cameron -- or even Lisa Whelchel for Chrissakes? That could -- that would -- be catastrophic.

"In that event, Brit could waltz to the finish line to claim the Derby title," he predicted. "Even if she actually doesn't drop dead of liver disease or a drug-induced heart attack until she's 45."

The Associated Press provided late details on Lohan's winning (she hopes) Derby strategy:

Less than two weeks out of rehab, with another drunken-driving case pending, Lohan had a blood-alcohol level of between 0.12 and 0.13 percent when police found her about 1:30 a.m., Sgt. Shane Talbot said.

Lohan attorney Blair Berk said her client had relapsed and was again receiving medical care. Her appearance Tuesday on “The Tonight Show” was canceled. TMZ.com is reporting that Lohan has entered an undisclosed treatment facility.

“Addiction is a terrible and vicious disease,” Berk said in a statement Tuesday.

Authorities had received a 911 call from the mother of Lohan’s former personal assistant, said Officer Alex Padilla. The assistant had just quit hours before, he said.
“The mother was afraid,” Padilla said. “She wasn’t quite sure what was going on so she called the police saying she wanted to make sure everything was going to be OK.”

The woman apparently didn’t realize it was Lohan who was behind her, Padilla said.

Police said the woman drove her black Cadillac Escalade into the parking lot of Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium, about a block away from the Santa Monica Police Department, followed by Lohan driving a Denali sport utility vehicle. Authorities arrived and saw Lohan and the woman in “heated debate,” Padilla said. Lohan and the woman each had two passengers in their vehicles, Padilla said.
After a sobriety test, the 21-year-old movie star was booked on suspicion of two misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license and two felony charges of possession of cocaine and transport of a narcotic, authorities said.

During a pre-booking search, police found cocaine in one of Lohan’s pants pockets, Talbot said.

Several hours later, Lohan was released on $25,000 bail.

Padilla said he didn’t know why Lohan was trying to catch the woman, whom he didn’t name.
MEANWHILE, the Britster could come back to win the whole shooting match if the OK! shoot was as d'oh!-K as Those in the Know say it was. TMZ.com gave us the scoop first:
According to multiple sources, Britney's behavior during the interview was "nothing less than a meltdown." She was, according to our sources, "completely out of it" during the shoot. The photos are "so bad" we've learned, that to publish them could "kill her career."

Apparently, Brit Brit's eyes rolled back in her head at one point, causing her to look half dead. Her mood, we're told, was extremely erratic. She took frequent bathroom breaks our source says, and each time she returned her mood would change. She was also completely paranoid during the entire interview, fearing at one point the ceiling was about to cave in on her. Out of control y'all!

We've also learned that Brit had some issues with hygiene on the set as well. At one point, Britney ordered up some fried chicken to munch on. We're told after she chowed down, she wiped her hands on a several thousand dollar Gucci dress that she was wearing for the shoot, staining it with grease. Yuck! One of her dogs also needed some assistance in the housebreaking department. Our on-set spy says that the dog pooped all over the floor, and Brit used (what else?) -- a Chanel dress to clean it up! How trashtastic! As for how Brit looked for the photos, another nightmare. We've learned that OK! hired two of the best hair and makeup artists in L.A. to transform the once-bald beauty into something more presentable, but she wasn't havin' none of that. She refused to let the hired help touch her, opting instead for her "skanky friends" to do her hair and makeup. No wonder she always looks so fantastic!
PARANOID? FREQUENT TRIPS to the loo? Mood change with each trip?

Has Linsday been sharing the wealth? Maybe she's just being generous toward a fierce rival. Or perhaps she's not taking the contest seriously enough, despite her obvious skill.

Tune in for continuing Derby updates on TMZ, PerezHilton, E!, Extra and Entertainment Tonight (check your local listings) as they become available.

***

NEXT STORY: Iraq blasts kill hundreds. Don't know a soldier killed in the war? You probably will sooner or later.

DEVELOPING: President Bush declares self god. Not The God, but a god. Vows to win war via telekinetics.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mighty Favog on Technorati


Hey! See y'all on Technorati , starting now!

The problem of being half-assed

The problem with poor people, and poor states, is they're a pain in the ass.


Oftentimes, the poor -- both the people and the political entities thereof -- are that way through nobody's fault but theirs. Yes, sometimes poverty is due to bad breaks and real injustices. But I'd bet at least 70 percent of it is because folks aren't that bright, never were taught any better or just don't give a damn.

Maybe all of the above. Though there certainly are many who would fit the sentimental stereotype of "the noble poor," many, many more are just damn pains in the gluteus maximus. They're uneducated, uncouth, unmotivated . . . and you wouldn't dare take them to a nice restaurant.

Some are strung out on something illegal most of the time. Others (oftentimes living examples of poverty and deviant social structures perpetuating and intensifying themselves) are just plain menaces to human life and public order.

Sometimes, ignorance and being no damn good can combine to provide unwitting amusement for the rest of us -- like the woman I once spied in the courthouse loudly complaining to a friend about her recent misdemeanor citation.

"What they mean nude conduct?" she asked, incredulous. "They charge me with nude conduct!"

I think the young woman -- who, I suspect, was no lady -- meant she had been cited for lewd conduct, although it may well have involved at least partial or maybe even substantial nudity.

SEEING WHY some are poor -- understandably if not rightly -- causes many to throw up their hands and adopt the fatalistic position that nothing's to be done apart from locking them up, walling them off or trying to forget they exist.

I got to thinking about this after a chance restaurant encounter with a Louisiana couple visiting Omaha from a town not far from Baton Rouge, my hometown.

We got to talking, and -- as these conversations tend to do the past couple of years -- we end up talking about the aftermath of Katrina and the iffy prospects of New Orleans being worth a damn ever again. Being a good Southern liberal, at least in the manner that would have defined Southern liberality a generation ago, I said what was needed was a WPA-style program that would have dealt with the unemployable, poverty-stricken hordes that streamed out of New Orleans and into cities like Houston, Atlanta and Baton Rouge après le déluge.

No, the husband said, those people just don't want to work. You'd better look at the news from home again, advised the wife.

I tried to argue that if, indeed, "those people" didn't want to avail themselves of an opportunity to better their education, learn a skill and go to work rebuilding their ruined city themselves, they at least ought to have the opportunity to self-select as being shiftless. In other words, they at least deserved the offer of a hand up . . . the chance to strive toward "The American Dream."

And the key word here is "strive." To be given, to use the vocabulary of faith, the grace of a second chance to remedy a third-rate education. The grace of a chance to chart a new course away from despair and toward hope. The grace of learning marketable skills, and the grace of becoming a stakeholder in their ruined communities by virtue of hard work rebuilding those communities.

Particularly New Orleans.

NAW, IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN. Those people don't want to work, came the all-knowing reply. After Katrina, their small town ended up sheltering 65 men from the New Orleans 'hood, the couple reported, and those 65 were nothing but miscreants who pretty much held the place hostage, threatening people and stealing the Wal-Mart blind.

I have no real reason to doubt that those 65 men were, as the couple said, less than upright citizens. But to take the obvious problem that a lot of no-damn-good people emerged from an inundated Crescent City and parlay it into a given that every poor, black New Orleanian is worthless is not only racist but utterly devoid of the virtue of hope.

Such toxic fatalism denies that the dissolute can reform and the shiftless become productive. It mocks grace and denies hope its due.

Ironically, fatalism is the one thing that binds indignant middle-class, white Louisianians to the poor, black objects of their derision. Destitute minorities in the Lower 9 and Central City look at their plight, conclude it's hopeless and say "Why try harder?"

Working-class, middle-class and upper-class white folks from every nook and cranny of the Bayou State look at the struggling poor, lousy public schools, a stagnant economy and crooked politicians gaming the system, conclude it's hopeless and say "Why try harder?"

Fatalism is the haywire chromosome that worked its way into the DNA of a colonial backwater as it bounced back and forth between the French and the Spanish. The phrase "That's Louisiana for you" is the telltale symptom of the deadly defect, and it's well-learned by Louisianians about the same time they're able to use the words boudin, gumbo, jambalaya and LSU football in coherent sentences.

And les Amèricains haven't found a cure for it in 204 years. Not that they've been trying particularly hard.

See, to the rest of the United States, the perception of Third World hopelessness encompasses not only da slums a Noo Orluns but the rest of Louisiana as well. Including the nice couple in the Omaha restaurant decrying the pathetic masses Katrina expelled from the fever swamps of a dying city.

IN A COUNTRY where most people think "God helps those who help themselves" is in the Bible --somewhere in the back -- no one remembers who in that book received the most grace from Christ, then ran with it.

It was the woman at the well, a floozy if ever there was one.

It was the woman condemned to death for adultery.

It was the low-life tax collector and the untouchable lepers.

It was a bunch of uncouth and uncultured fishermen.

It was a particularly bumbling fisherman who went on to deny Him three times . . . but ended up becoming the first pope.

It was a petty street criminal being executed on the cross next to Jesus.

IN SUCH A COUNTRY -- in such a basket-case state as Louisiana -- where no one remembers any of the real losers Christ seemed to favor so, the most dangerous words in all of Christendom are "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Now that Katrina's floodwaters have washed away our illusions -- and delusions -- all our trespasses have been laid bare. The personal trespasses of a dysfunctional -- and often downright deviant -- underclass. The corporate trespasses born of societal and political neglect.

The self-righteous trespasses of those who decide "those people" are all alike and irredeemable, thereby rejecting grace as futile.

What goes around, comes around. And Judgment Day is nigh.