Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Adios to Arlen Specter

So this was news about Arlen Specter? His votes marked him as a Democrat years ago, and the reason I never complained was that I figured he was entitled to his opinion. At least the Democrats won't be using him as the poster boy for how a reasonable Republican would think any longer.

I heard the news before I saw the press conference. My first reaction that Specter had gotten in touch with his inner leftist, and in an aha moment decided that the Democrat Party was a better home. Nothing so high minded. Turns out that he said he couldn't win a primary challenge and was unwilling to have his Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.

There are reports that Specter was in talks with the Democrats for months. That did surprise me.  I thought it would have been years.

Let's hope that Specter holds firm on the Card Check. Certifying a union via signed cards has been used for a long time--when management's actions against union organizing have been so egregious that there has been concern whether a union could get a fair election at all. There's nothing fair about the card check; it's blatant payback for election organizing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ruining Furniture in the White House

Just when I was wondering when the President--who has been busy bowing and scraping his way through Europe and the Americas, followed by US campaign appearances--sleeps, the answer is in. You can see it above.  Just click the picture if you need a better view. You will notice that he is ruining a perfectly good chair that belongs to the taxpayers. Another  chair is cleverly placed to his right, hiding the fact that he is also ruining a perfectly good table. If you ever wondered whether the President was raised right, this is your answer. While this posture is known well among those who like a quick snooze, fans of the president term it "silent reflection." Probably to avoid the obvious: Timothy Geitner and economics bore him to death. In the interests of preserving that relic of the past--furniture acutually made in the USA--would someone please get him a chair that tilts?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fashion Dog

Earth Day and clever adults have managed to scare children to death about their futures. Barack Obama (former US Constitution instructor who presumably should understand First Amendment rights) is looking into prosecuting government lawyers who wrote legal memos with which he disagrees. At a UN conference, pals of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chant "Zionazi" to recent North Shore visitor, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Today, perhaps it might be best to focus on the less significant.

Enter fashion dog Mondex, a 5 year old Chihuahua, seen above, just in time to cheer you up. His outfit (at a Philippine fashion show) helped him beat out stiff competition from Tucker, dressed as a cowboy. Plenty more cute pet pictures at the New York Daily News that are bound to add perspective.

In other news, Monday marked Wilmette's 1,000th post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teach Children to Save Day April 21

Thanks to the American Banker's Association, kids around American have been receiving some economic education today, learning to identify the difference between a need and a want. If we are lucky, some of those kids will grow up to be members of Congress and Presidents, who are badly in need of knowing the difference. If you're looking for some savings resources, the ABA has quite a few.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Could It Happen Here? Grand Opening Celebration of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center in Skokie

With the spectre of left-wing fascism on the rise, and with conservatives targeted by Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, as possible bad people, I was happy to use the free ticket, which I got via online request, and see the public grand opening of nearby Skokie's new museum, The Holocaust Memorial and Education Center yesterday afternoon. The celebration was grand indeed, with stirring speeches on human rights by Elie Wiesel, Bill Clinton, Gov. Quinn, the German ambassador, and others, including a number of greeting delivered on tape. While I never was a fan of Bill Clinton, he gave a surprisingly excellent and academic talk on genocide. A priest and a rabbi gave prayers, and I think the Protestants were represented by a black gospel choir, who were very cheerful and upbeat.

I was impressed by this event, which must have taken hundreds, and maybe even thousands of hours of planning. There was great sensitivity shown in the speeches to past and current issues of genocide as well as the problems that result when identifiable groups are singled out as objects of prejudice. In coming days, the museum is presenting symposiums on a number of human rights topics with the type of speakers that you usually need to travel downtown to see. So take a look at the calendar, you might find something of interest.

When I left my house, I dressed pretty warmly, but I got colder and colder in the outdoor tent. Unless you walked the whole way, entrance was by bus. By the time the speeches ended the weather had changed from merely drippy to pouring. The line for buses had become a sea of mud, and I returned home cold, wet, hungry and muddy. On the way back I saw an assortment of mobile command posts, NIPAS vehicles, Sheriff's buses, and squad cars at the Skokie Courthouse, who managed to stay in the background while providing security.

The ridicule of tea party participants by government officials, and the identification of conservatives by by Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano as possibly dangerous due to their viewpoints almost exactly parallels the warnings of the type of actions covered yesterday that are worrisome. I left hopeful that things will be okay, and someone will speak out for those of us who believe in limited government and traditional values before it is too late. As local Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall, notes on the museum's website, "Today, it happened to me because I was a Jew. Tomorrow, it may be because you have blue eyes or because you're Catholic."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reading the Tea Leaves: Hats Off and a Plea to Bennie Thompson

Hats off to Mississippi Democrat Congressman and head of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, who yesterday questioned how Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, could have ever allowed her Report on Rightwing Extremism to be released. The fact that it emerged one day before yesterday's anti-government Tea Parties, in concert with carefully planted newspaper articles calling the protest "insane," is in the words of the UK's Telegraph "little more than a mud-slinging exercise designed to brand anyone who doesn't think Barack Hussein Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread as some kind of closet neo-Nazi."

Thomson, a civil rights advocate with a reputation as a no-nonsense problem solver, wrote in a letter addressed to Secretary Napolitano, "This report appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans -- including war veterans. As I am certain you agree, freedom of association and freedom of speech are guaranteed to all Americans -- whether a person's beliefs, whatever their political orientation, are 'extremist' or not." Even the leftist Rolling Stone notes, "It [the Report] irresponsibly conflates murderous hate-crime-committing white supremacists and homegrown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh with run of the mill rightwingers who, God love ‘em, have every right to vehemently oppose the federal government, abortion, and immigration."

Yesterday, in an action emphasizing her unfitness to remain as the head of Homeland Security, Secretary Napolitano stood behind her report. We urge Congressman Thompson to push for her resignation quickly, before damage control becomes unmanageable. Thompson has the ability to work quietly behind the scenes to achieve this in a way that will not embarass the Obama administration who has made a clear mistake with this choice. He should do so.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Susan Boyle

In the heartbreaking days of  World War II,  songs,  movies, and radio thrived, providing entertainment that lifted the saddened spirits of war-weary citizens. With tough times upon us, we could use some distraction. For that reason, the heartwarming story of the talented Susan Boyle--as told in this Youtube video--is an Internet sensation. If you haven't seen her appearance on Britains Got Talent, the UK equivalent of American Idol, please take a look. It will make your day.

Tea Party for Tax Day


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Napolitano Should Resign in Wake of Conservative Slur

Is that the FBI knocking at my door?

Piece of work head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, first known to me for her let-'em-eat-cake attitude when a gasoline pipeline broke a couple of years ago in Phoenix, Arizona when she was the governor, has issued a nationwide report warning local law enforcement officials about right wing extremists. They might just be recruiting in a neighborhood near you, and that is cause for concern. Part of the report focuses on people who mean harm to others and those who advocate planning violence. I don't have any problem with that part of the report, but the bulk of it warns about the danger of people just like you and me, who don't happen to agree with the political viewpoints of the Obama administration. Among the suspect are those who are motivated by single issues such as abortion, problems resulting from illegal immigration, sentiment in favor of the Second Amendment, and those who voice concern about the rapid growth of government. While the report admits these people are not violent, just worrisome, they should, nevertheless be watched.

In issuing this report entitled "Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, Napolitano's office shows all the sensitivity for diversity of opinion of someone who would advocate arresting women in headscarves because they might just know people who are terrorists. Seriously. But don't take it from me, you can read the report yourself. It is a travesty. Its release timing just before tomorrow's nationwide anti-tax demonstrations, which the liberal media is attempting to spin as the acts of a small bunch of kooks, makes it seem as if the clear intent is for the media to use this report as a political tool. This is worse than shameful. Don't agree with the current administration? You could be a mad bomber . . .

While I would like to think the report is well intentioned, the fact that it saw the light of day in its current form could lead one to believe that Napolitano must be mentally preparing for Janet Reno type standoffs. The difference? She might just be pulling her SWAT team up to the door of your local country club. Napolitano's lack of sensitivity to and appreciation of the right of free speech and free thought, the right to bear arms, and the right to petition the government for redress shows a lack of Constitutional regard that is nearly unprecedented in a cabinet level post. Napolitano should resign

Tax Day Tea Party Tomorrow

The Indians will be out in Chicago for a tax day tea party tomorrow . . . (If you plan to join them, it's Noon until 2 PM at the Federal Building Plaza on Dearborn.) Take a sign with a gripe of your choice. Write big! Dress warm!

Not in Chicago? Click here for a link to a page which will list the tea party in your state! When you reach the page, look to the right and click on your state.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Monday

I was completely grown up before I found out a very bad secret: much of the World, and certainly the rest of the Western World, is at play today, celebrating Easter Monday. In the US, we return to work.  I call it this fact a "secret" because any rational person-- if they knew about it-- would support an Easter Monday holiday, and perhaps engage in a little light agitation and community organizing on its behalf.  I suppose its omission is more in keeping with our Puritan heritage and desire to avoid heathen excess rather than good common sense. It cannot be because suddenly our country isn't mostly Christian, judging from the Standing Room Only Easter service yesterday. And that may not even matter; mostly Hindu India celebrates both Good Friday and Easter Monday as holidays. From Albania to Zimbabwe, you can practically hear the collective yawns of the world as they roll over for a few more winks.

In a time of economic meltdown, Easter Monday would provide more time for shopping, and more time for dealmaking on the golf course. With most families scattered, visiting is nearly impossible for many without an extra day after Easter to get back home. Celebrating Easter Monday would add substantial benefits to the travel industry. With family and friends visiting, people would decide it was a good idea for everyone to go out eat, adding relief to troubled restaurants.

So, think about it. Rather than tossing a few trillion into the economic pot, if Washington had simply decreed Easter Monday as a holiday, the economy might just be on a faster path to righting itself. The problem is, as a solution is is simply too simple.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Greetings

Saturday, April 11, 2009

First Dog Bo

Just in time for Easter, the word is that the First Dog is in the White House. Of course, as I wrote about before, $3,000. Portuguese Water Dogs really aren't found in shelters. In the most amazing story, and I do mean story (cough, cough), Teddy Kennedy's dog's recently adopted litter mate was "turned back in" either to a) the breeder or b) an upscale shelter in Texas, depending on the version you read. Theoretically, they could call it abandoned (yeah, right) as a way around the law on gifts to public officials.

As promised, I put the dog on of those Obama type posters. As seems fitting, that's Teddy Kennedy in the background.

(So is it Bo Obama or just Bobama?)

UPDATE: The AP is reporting on the intrigue surrounding the backstory on First Dog Bo.

UPDATE 2: I decided to look into how the excellent but left-leaning Humane Society of the United States was spinning the story. They are taking the position that Bo is a second-chance dog, but hedging that by saying that Bo"was apparently returned by the family that originally purchased him." While their viewpoint might be a little off the mark, they make a good plea for the importance of adopting shelter animals.

Friday, April 10, 2009


And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. So Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.

-Matthew 27:46- 52

Online Good Friday: Wall Street's Trinity Church

As one of America's oldest churches, Trinity Church in Manhattan has been serving the spiritual needs of the Anglican community since 1698. Today, it it is using some of the newest forms of communication to minister both to the Wall Street Community and the online world. For Good Friday, the church is offering an online Flash presentation of the Stations of the Cross which loads quickly and features both bible text and brief prayers. From 11 AM to 2 PM Chicago time, Trinity will offer a Passion Play of the last hours of Christ via Twitter.

L'Aquila Earthquake Day of Mourning

It is a very sad Good Friday in L'Aquila Italy. It is a national day of mourning for the victims of Monday's L'Aquila Earthquake. Pictured above is the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, presiding over the official State funeral.

Good Friday until Easter Sunday is the only time of the year when churches do not serve communion, but a special exception was made by the Pope for the services.

Chicagoans would do well to consider that yesterday it was found that much of the destruction death and injury from the Earthquake could have been completely avoided if required building codes and inspections had been followed. Unfortunately, corruption prevented that from taking place. As a result nearly 300 people are dead, 17,000 people are living in tents or in their cars with all possessions lost, and farm and domestic animals are in great distress.

Good Friday Holiday

Time was when commerce nearly stopped on Good Friday. It is the most solemn day of the Christian year, the remembrance of the death of Jesus. Traditionally, this was a slow news day, with serious stories focused mostly on the Christian world--in particular on commemorations in Jerusalem and Rome. It was not a day for shopping, parties, movie going, or merrymaking. Government offices and many businesses were closed. Many attended church or engaged in Christian Contemplation while preparing for Easter.

With so many changes, we are grateful that the New York Stock Exchange and banks still honor this day by shutting their doors.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

On the Most Wanted List in Bagdad: A New Car!

In the best news we've heard from Iraq in a long, long, time, suddenly a new car is the most wanted item. Could there be any surer sign that life in Bagdad is returning to normal?

Obama, the Double Minded Man

Months ago, fierce enemy of the Left, Ann Coulter, wrote that Barack Obama is a nut job and I think she called it right. Obama's bowing down to the Saudi King in an "Oops" moment on his American Apology Tour has been firmly denied despite ample visual testimony to the contrary. Now, the first religious peep we hear out of the White House since the prayer breakfast following Obama's inauguration is tonight's planned Jewish Seder. Apparently Mr. Obama became a fan of the Seder during his campaign, in his own personal Madonna (the Catholic rock star who embraced Kabala) moment. Of course he forgot to invite his wife's cousin, well-known Chicago rabbi, Capers Funnye. As far as Easter goes, I have heard only about an Easter Egg hunt. Will our new President, who a year ago was carrying on about his firm commitment to Jesus and Christianity ad nauseum even bother marking the holiday?

I am reminded of the words of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Double minded men: two thoughts.

Update: After nearly a year without a church home, Obama is "likely" going to church on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Hippity Hoppity - Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

How perfect are these giant bunny slippers that you can drive for hopping down the bunny trail?
h/t: Fark

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fueled By the Napoli Sandwich, We Press On to Siena

It took us about two days in Florence to realize that if we wanted really good Italian food that we ought to be eating it in Chicago. $14 for about 5 ounces of pasta with a couple of artichoke hearts, 1/10 of a tomato and about a quarter cup of olive oil? That came from a restaurant that was highly recommended, by the way. After a delicious Happy Meal at McDonald's across from the Santa Maria Novella train station that only cost about $7.50 each, you can't blame us for thinking about having it our way.

After a morning of sightseeing we decided to take the train to Siena, stopping at McDonald's to pick something up to eat on the way. Could you seriously turn down an Italian style breaded chicken patty with onion, tomato and a delicate hot sauce on a special bun with herbs at a special introductory price of less than $5?

The best I can say about the Napoli Sandwich is that it is an evil twin to the Filet-O-Fish gone horribly wrong. Not only did it manage to start out dry and tasteless, it emptied its onion salsa all over my purse, ensuring that it stayed dry until the last bite. While it was a pretty bad culinary experience, at least we no longer were hungry. Soon enough, the pretty countryside of Tuscany outside the train window not only made us forget our recent unpleasantness, but it also made us realize that if we run out of money before the recession ends we can be nice and skinny, just like the Italians.

Pistchio Recall: Bad Nut - Good Nut List

Somewhere in the pantry we have a half-eaten bag of pistachio nuts, carefully sealed up. Soon as I find the time I will check them out for safety from Salmonella. The FDA has a website with a searchable database containing all recalled pistachio nut produts. The Western Pistachio Association has a website with a list of pistachio products which are safe and not subject to recall. I'm hoping my pistachios are safe, because pistachio nuts are delicious!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Earthquake in Italy Spoils Joy of Reporting on my Trip

On a very sad note, in the midst of my lighthearted blogging about our recent trip, a terrible earthquake has occurred in the Abruzzo region of Italy, demolishing the town of Onna and devastating the medieval fortress hill town of L'Aquila, which is the capital of the Abruzzo. There are reports of the total destruction of nearby towns. While there are no reports of damage to Florence, the ancient baths of Caracalla in Rome have been affected.

70,000 people are homeless, thousands injured, and the death toll is rising. The Italian Red Cross has mounted a strong response and are feeding citizens and relocating them to tents. Terrible news.

We Find Siena but Not Very Easily

So we thought we were very clever heading to Siena by train. Our Rick Steves Guidebook told us to take any orange bus leaving from the station, ensure that it was headed to "Il Centro," and it would be all good. Somehow in my mind I pictured the bus pulling up to the Piazza del Campo, pictured above, and all we would have to do would be to hop off.

As the bus went further and further into a modern part of town however, we realized that we might be in a little trouble. Because the bus had standing room only, there was no way we could even ask the driver. Luckily, an English speaking local told us when it was our stop, and we walked about half a mile down narrow medieval streets filled with tourists and were able to find both the famous Sienna town square and the amazing Cathedral.

I remained a little nervous, however. After nearly collapsing on the steep marble stairs to the cathedral, I realized that I hadn't heard any ambulances at all.

Thoughts . . .

Recent thoughts . . .

*I heard Hillary Clinton say something on global warming on the news, but I remain perplexed how the globe is warming when we are on our sixth month of snow here in Wilmette. Winter is supposed to be part of December, all of January and February, and part of March, three months or so in all. Not this year, not last year, not in a while.

*I find myself avoiding the TV news more often, and its no surprise why viewership is down; all the news reported is bad, any way you look at it. I am sure that all the news is not bad, but Just think of the good news you have heard on TV lately; bet you can't think of any, except for some heartwarming story about how someone who is doing well, despite something horrible happening around that person. The bulk of the ads are for medicines whose sole message is you may be quite unwell. It used to be watching the news meant you were interest in being well informed. Now it may mean that you are a masochist.

*I am considering losing all interest in politics. It appears that Washington is being run by crooks, and who wants to have anything to do with crooks?

*I cannot abide the thought of the President of the United States bowing down to foreign princes (it's at :53 through :56). While I had seen the still image before today, I thought it had been photoshopped. Sur-prise!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry

Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to see this beautiful fresco of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on our recent trip to Tuscany. We simply ran out of time to go to Assisi, where these frescoes by Pietro Lorenzetti decorate the Church of San Francesco. We did see a lot of paintings similar to this. I suppose you also have noticed the lush fabrics in 14th century art from Northern Italy, but it never occurred to me that at that time Tuscany was famous for its wools and silks, with the wool trade centered in Florence and the silk trade centered in Lucca. 

The Florence area was an important stopping-off point point for people headed  to the Crusades (and I would suppose returning).  I would imagine, however,  if more people had returned, the backgrounds and interiors in paintings completed just a few generations later would have looked less like Europe and more like the Holy Land. Do you see the tower in the upper left? Those towers are famous in the old cities of Tuscany. It was very desirable to have one on your house--much like today's teardowns--an important status symbol

Today, Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week, and I hope it is a blessed one for you.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

We Observe Galileo's Chandelier at the Pisa Cathedral

This is the famous chandelier at Pisa Cathedral that Galileo observed in 1583 which led to the making of accurate clocks with pendulums. In those days the chandelier was lit with candles, and there was a rope to raise and lower it. After it was raised it would swing to and fro.

The Pisa Cathdral is an amazing place. If you ever wonder what happened to some of those missing Roman ruins, some of the old columns ended up here, doing as good a job of holding up a building as they did a thousand years ago.

Walking back into the past as we did here can certainly give perspective on one's problems, whether they are real or imagined. It's hard to think of telling the time as a major societal concern, and I wish I could tell Galileo that almost everyone in the world now has a cheap device that they can wear on their wrist and is accurate to the minute.

Madonna and Judge Chombo

Both entertaining and thoughtful, I'm recommending this very interesting long article in the UK's Daily Mail about rock star Madonna's quest to adopt another African child. Judge Chombo makes it clear that, despite the country's poverty, Malawi is standing up to trafficking in children.  

Friday, April 03, 2009

We Contemplate the Leaning Tower of Pisa Over Lunch

On the second day of our trip, we decided to take a tour of the towns of Lucca and Pisa. It was really exciting to finally see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but I never imagined it to be the bell tower of the church next door, which it was. We had a nice sandwich at a restaurant across the street, and I took this picture through the window while we were eating. Sights such as these can take you mind off current events entirely. There were so many tourists excited to see this sight that the happy mood was contagious, and it did us a world of good.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Reviving our Spirits in Florence

Nerves had become totally frazzled at our house with the economic meltdown of the past six months. When we found a super deal to Florence, Italy for a week's vacation, we decided to go. Florence is a great city to visit now due to its past. Under the Medici, it was the banking capital of the Western world five centuries ago. Then, bad banking practices led to bank failure. Since the Medicis ran not only banking but government, there was no bailout. Time has nearly stood still in the city center ever since. Spared of fires and destruction from war, there is a certain aspect of time travel, except for the hoardes of tourists from every country and the ever incessant noise which echoes off the stone buildings and streets.

Florence is a hard city to travel in, but people have been visiting since the Crusades. I image early tourists found similar conditions. Costly water, overpriced restaurants, limited bathroom facilities, few places to sit, and a confusing transportation system means you are reduced to focusing on the most basic human needs. It's hard to worry about the things that are bothering us all when, amid the incessant sound of ambulance sirens, you wonder if you might be the next victim, carted off when you keel over from too much sightseeing. There is more art and more to see here than I had ever seen before in one place, and our minds were freed from the worries that have been testing our patience.