Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Conservative Entertainment Complex

The 2012 election will go down in history as a major turning point in American politics that shattered many points of view and vindicated the ideas of many Americans frustrated with what appeared to be a country having no grasp of reality. For four years, many of us have been scratching our heads, “How can anyone possibly believe this $#%^&!”

From the birther nonsense to Obama being a socialist or a Muslim or an alien from outer space, pick your conspiracy, . . Who are these people? Four years ago I used the phrase “choir blogging” for the blogs preaching to their own choirs. Who was reading that crap?

Now we have a far superior distinction – the conservative entertainment complex. Yes, the left has Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, Inc., but their rather well grounded fabrications pale in comparison to the sheer fantasy worlds created at Fox News. While democrats may watch MSNBC, they also remained grounded in the reality provided by professionals.

The GOP, however, drinks deep from the Foxiverse and buys the charade whole hog including the postage. When highly refined, expert developed scientific polls repeatedly showed an electorate favoring Obama by a few points, GOP pundits vilified the lot as biased. Conservatives wailed that the New York Times and statistician Nate Silver were “hopelessly in the can” for Obama. They even created their own polls, adjusting the numbers as they wished. They really did that. A legion of mouthpieces called for Romney's landslide.  Romney and his entire campaign bought it all, hook, line, sinker, and fishing pole.

I've taught statistics at a university. A real class with real students learning material that can be proven / refuted by these things called textbooks. Nate Silver nailed the election with the laser precision that well conducted polls with 1000+ sample sizes can provide. I know the math, and clearly Nate Silver does. He batted 50 out of 50 in calling the states.

Perhaps the GOP bubble was best crystallized for all to see when Karl Rove's Ohio meltdown showed a goon so saturated in his own juices that he foamed and flailed when Fox News called the state for Obama. Methinks Karl's orgy may have to trim its budget in future elections.

We've sensed it, smelled it, and talked about it, but now it is truly exposed for all to see. The conservative entertainment complex is just that, entertainment for an aging and dying set of white folks increasingly outnumbered by a growing set of people with more advanced ideas about the well being of a nation. We may or may not see setbacks, but the day is coming when those entertained by the circus lack the numbers to win elections. The day may also be coming when enough of them have expired that Fox viewership no longer sustains its existence.

The sooner the better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

City Funding of TREO Eliminated

At long last the City of Tucson will stop funding the grotesque waste of resources known as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), an agency that is supposed to be enhancing the attraction and retention of high wage paying companies in the local community.

What led to this development is the increasing insistence (and the fact that these demands would only grow louder until satisfied) on the part of city officials that TREO demonstrate in clear, factual terms the tangible results of its efforts in terms of jobs created, wealth produced, and dollars generated.  Real data - that means names and dates and numbers.

Well, TREO just doesn't do that.  Never has, never will.  Instead, since its inception it has relied upon invented estimates, sheer fabrication (i.e. Cloth), and good old fashioned taking credit for events that would have occurred anyway, results produced by others (those who produce).

So, rather than continue to face the badgering for specific, measurable outcomes that can be verified by someone other than a suit in the overpaid goon squad, TREO CEO Snell decided to fold the city cards.

The move makes a lot of sense.  Now the likes of Raytheon, Honeywell, Wells Fargo, TEP, and the rest can pay TREO the sums of their choice for the organization to do what it actually does - cheer leading.

There's nothing wrong with cheerleaders on the sidelines.  They look good and jump around in cute costumes, cheering for the folks on the field.  At salaries well over a hundred grand, it's not a bad gig.

Now that their role is honestly distinguished, the guys in the skirts can stop trying to convince everyone they scored all the touchdowns.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Painfully Obvious

ABC News’ David Muir:  Let's clear this up, was there ever a year when you paid less than 13.9 percent?
Romney: I haven’t calculated that.  I’m happy to go back and look.

Romney never got back to ABC News.

At risk of stating the painfully obvious, everyone here is clear that Mitt Romney knows precisely what he pays in taxes every year.

In dollars and cents.
As a percentage of gross income.
In 25+ other weird combinations and calculations none of us normal folk have ever seen.

For every year of the last 20 years.

Equally obvious is the fact that he is hiding something.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hot Coffee

Susan Saladoff's Hot Coffee (2011) starts with the "infamous" lawsuit where a 79 year old woman, Stella Liebeck, successfully sued McDonald's for serving coffee that was "too hot" because she suffered severe burns when she accidentally spilled it on her lap.

Corporations seized upon this development and produced a PR bonanza that fooled most of the country including yours truly. At the time, I bought everything served by the mass media about the frivolous nature of this suit and the greed behind its motivation. Learn the truth, and well, not exactly.

Myth: The woman carelessly spilled her coffee while driving. Fact: The woman was a passenger and the car was parked, not moving.


Myth: The coffee was served at a standard serving temperature for coffee.
Fact: At the time, McDonald's procedure specified a serving pot temperature of 180-190 F. Your home machine will serve your cup at 145-155 F. Premium coffee shops do serve hotter, with Starbucks at 170 or so. A cup of coffee at 190 F is 20-30 degrees or more hotter than what most would reasonably expect.

Myth: The woman was greedy and out to make an easy fortune.
Fact:  Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,000.  With this information, the company offered her $800.

Myth:  She was the first person to ever complain of the hot temperature.
Fact: From McDonald's own documents that emerged in the case, from 1982 to 1992 McDonald's received over 700 formal written complaints from customers with scalded lips or tongues, mouth blisters, as well as spill induced burns very similar to those in the lawsuit. McDonald's took no action to address the complaints.

Note: For every formal, written complaint, consider how many customers (including myself) just swore when they accidentally burned themselves with a sip, not recognizing that the coffee was 30 degrees hotter than normal.

Myth: The burns were not that severe.
Fact: The woman suffered severe 3rd degree burns requiring skin grafting and surgeries.

The film uses the McDonald's coffee case as a launch point to expose and illustrate the organized effort on the part of corporations to thwart the ability of anyone to hold them to account for injuries or deaths that occur due to negligence or other malfeasance.

This effort includes the likes of Karl Rove electioneering the defeat of judges sympathetic to injured plaintiffs as well as the proliferation of small print language in just about every contract that waives the right to sue and requires the use of arbitration where the "third party" arbitrator is paid by the corporation involved and faces termination with any judgement in favor of the injured party.

By the way, after the case, McDonald's reduced the temperature of its coffee into the 170s.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Embrace

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What We Can't Imagine

Excerpts from Gabby:

She was sitting in speech therapy holding a photo of a wooden chair and staring intently at it. She was trying, almost desperately, to describe what she was looking at.

"Spoon," she said again.
Angie Glenn, her speech therapist, a young woman of good humor and great patience, corrected her, "No, Gabby, not a spoon," she said, "It's something you sit in. You sit in a . . ."
"Spoon," Gabby said.


The next photo in Angie's pile was of a lamp.

"Yes, yes, yes," Gabby recognized it, but couldn't produce the word.
Angie provided a hint, "You turn on the . ."
Gabby stared at the picture on the table in front of her.
"Cheeseburger," she said, finally.  She knew that wasn't it.

That's about when I entered the room, bearing tulips, which I presented to Gabby with a light kiss.  It was the eve of Valentine's Day.
I asked her, "What kind of flowers are these?"
"Chicken," she told me.

In case any of you thought 2011 was a tough year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Face I Would Never See

Words fail me in capturing what I wish to say about the volumes spoken by this recent TIME magazine photograph of Congresswoman Giffords, taken eleven months after she was shot in the head at point blank range. Sparing you the perhaps futile effort to describe why or how, I'll just state that this is a face I thought I would never see. When I look at the photo and construct for myself what I see behind the eyes, I see what I would have not thought possible for this person prior to last year. It is not about "better or worse" or "wise or unwise." Closer to the mark involves the experience of suffering and mortality. Not surprisingly, Gabrielle and her husband Mark put forward a positive image of hope and courage, but it shows a certain honestly to allow television programs to broadcast the brutal, gut-wrenching photographs of her shortly after she was shot. The approval and publication of this photograph is also an act of communication, however conscious or intentional, and anyone interested in food for thought is invited to contrast this photograph with those of the Congresswoman prior to 2011. In the world that existed then, it is a face I would never see.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Occupy Why?

It's Personal: Corporate profits are at an all-time high, but corporations are paying lower taxes than ever before. Some aren't paying any at all...Executive pay is now about five times higher than it was in 1980, adjusted for inflation. The average salary for the rank-and-file American worker, however, is about the same as it was in 1980.

Increased Support: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told CBS News, "They are basically sending us a message that says, 'Don't create a society where one percent basically has all the wealth.'"

Occupy Wall St Quiz: Who said each of the following? (Answers at the link.)

1. I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country.
2. I think it expresses the frustration the American people feel.
3. They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them.
4. Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!
5. We are the 1 percent.
6. God bless them for their spontaneity. It’s young, it’s spontaneous, it’s focused and it’s going to be effective.
7. This is like the Tea Party — only it’s real. By the time this is over, it will make the Tea Party look like … a tea party.
8. I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare.
9. What they’re trying to do is take away the jobs of people working in the city, take away the tax base that we have.
10. I’m very, very understanding of where they’re coming from.

By the way, care to venture a guess as to the income and net worth of those voicing criticisms of this "mob"?

Consider that this is just beginning and will get interesting.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

99 and 1

The 99% and 1% distinction currently deployed by the escalating Occupy Wall Street demonstrations offers a compelling and easily understood concept that has the makings to gain considerable traction.

First, let's note that the 99% and the 1% can refer to two separate financial measures, wealth and income. One could argue that the two are so closely related that either measure points to the same realities.

Starting with income distribution, to get straight with some of the figures, the Wealth and Want Website has sound statistics regarding the facts of income distribution in the United States including links to additional references allowing one to dive as deep as desired into the data.

As they list there, summarizing for the key 8 groups:

P0-89 (bottom 90%)
9/10 households — income below $104,696

P90-100 (top 10%)
1/10 households — income above $104,696

P90-95 (next 5%)
1/20 households — income between $104,696 and $148,423

P95-99 (next 4%)
4/100 households — income between $148,423 and $382,593

P99-100 (top 1%)
1/100 households — income above $382,593

P99.5-100 (top 0.5%)
1/200 households — income above $597,584

P99.9-100 (top 0.1%)
1/1,000 households — income above $1,898,200

P99.99-100 (top .01%)
1/10,000 households — income above $10,659,283

Putting the above into some simple sentences, you are in the 1% club for income if you gross over $382,593 per year in 2006 dollars, or $430,000 in 2011 dollars.

Make less than $430,000 / year, and you are in the 99% group.

When examining wealth, the inequality is far worse, with the richest 20% owning over 4/5 (84%) of EVERYTHING. The richest 1% own almost half the country, and we wonder why they control everything, including our media, and virtually run the country to serve their own interests.

One of the ways they do this is to dramatically understate and effectively obfuscate the reality of poverty and its existence in the United States. The national psyche simply does not get how poor we are. Andrew Price at Good Politics wrote Americans Are Horribly Misinformed About Who Has Money last month.

Helping illuminate the situation is an excellent paper, Building a Better America One Quintile at a Time [PDF], by Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) and Dan Ariely (Duke University).

Price in his post notes that the nation is becoming a a plutocracy.

Becoming?

We're already there.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

American Spring


This was unanimously voted on by all members of Occupy Wall Street last night, around 8pm, Sept 29. It is our first official document for release. We have three more underway, that will likely be released in the upcoming days: 1) A declaration of demands. 2) Principles of Solidarity 3) Documentation on how to form your own Direct Democracy Occupation Group. This is a living document. you can receive an official press copy of the latest version by emailing c2anycga@gmail.com.

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

They've Got Tickets to Hell, but They Don't Care

The Pima County GOP has garnered national attention for selling raffle tickets at $10 to win a Glock 23 semi-automatic pistol and three 12-round clips. The Glock 23 is essentially the same pistol as the Glock 19 that Jared Loughner used on January 8th to gun down Congresswoman Giffords, killing six and wounding 14.

(The Glock 19 with the 30 round clip used at the Safeway at Oracle and Ina) What is it with these people? The Republicans have become a damned confusing set of folks. Why aren't the sound thinking business oriented components reacting to the fact hating, science rejecting schizoid hysteria that cheers when a candidate for president declares that hurricanes are a sign from God to control federal spending, or that the USSR is the number one concern among Americans today, or that global warming is fiction as heat records burst like Jiffy Pop and Greenland breaks in half, or that raffling in Giffords district essentially the same damned gun used in that massacre is perfectly reasonable?

(The Glock 23 with the 12 round clip being raffled by the Pima GOP) As the photos show, these are completely different handguns, and the outrage over such a raffle in Giffords district is just nonsense.

Well, it appears there's no shortage of nonsense these days. A former vice-president of this country, one that will go down in history as a war criminal, has all but declared he was the acting president during his boss's first term, and now, the current GOP front runner for president has a book, Fed Up!, that reads more like Mein Kampf than Dreams from my Father.

Whether their tickets are for a ride to, at best, a world that no longer exists, or worse, to Hell itself, or their tickets raffle off a gun that butchered many including a Congresswoman in her own district, they simply don't care.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bachmann Wants $2 gas / Warns of Soviet Union

Supporting limited government and lower taxes, GOP Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has called for government price controls to insure that gasoline stays at $2 / gallon, “If we get government out of the way and support the free market, supply and demand will reduce costs for everything.”

Bachmann also asserted that the most serious concern on the minds of Americans today is the resurgence of the former Soviet Union and its quest for world domination. Leaders in the various 15 individual sovereign nations that used to comprise the former USSR voiced confusion at Bachmann's assertion, “We remain very unclear as to how such a unification could proceed if in fact we could find anyone that wants to do it.”

In a Kazakhstan restaurant, former soldier Aleksei Stronokov choked on his vodka when asked about Bachmann's statement, “What a fu**ing idiot!”

Princeton Identifies Most/Least Religious Universities

Princeton University has conducted research to produce a ranking of the nation's universities by the prevalance and significance of religion in the students' lives. Not surprisingly, Brigham Young University topped the list of most religious, followed by Hillsdale College, Thomas Aquinas College (Catholic), Wheaton (evangelical) and Grove City (evangelical).

The least religious universities? Bennington College, Reed College, Bard College, Vassar College and Sarah Lawrence College. Three of the top five for least religious are in New York.

Some noted that the students at Oral Roberts evangelical university failed to make the top ten, but a recent ORU graduate clarified, “We're not really religious. At ORU we learn how to form a church and fleece the gullible."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brodesky Highlights Cloth Machine

(Tucson, Arizona) Star reporter Josh Brodesky has an excellent piece in today's paper that hits the nail as squarely on the head as any piece you'll find on the Clothmeisters. I really don't have anything to add and encourage folks to take a look.

In this case, the aficionado is former Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis, who lost his re-election effort last year. Since then, he's raked in $150,000+ in no-bid RTA consulting fees for "engineering oversight" on the trolley car. Over two years ago, I said the RTA would become a Clothfest. Think orgy. This trough will feature the likes of Larry/Dan and the whole fam damily in spades including aunts, nephews, cousins, in-laws, the neighbor's dog and Uncle Bob's ocotillo.

Quoting directly from Brodesky:

Since the RTA's inception, Hayes has doled out more than $3.6 million in small, no-bid contracts. The thinking is these contracts save money because the RTA doesn't have to hire any salaried staffers. But it's also led to some strange contracts.

(Paul Loomis) The RTA can tap Sheila Storm, the communications director for Pima Association of Governments, for some public relations help. Still Hayes has doubled up on help for her, inking David Joseph (whose wife Michele is the spokeswoman for Sun Tran) and former Tucson Citizen transportation reporter Garry Duffy, for additional PR.

Hayes also gave nearly $89,000 in contracts to a firm led by his daughter-in-law's brother.


Yes, you did just read that. I am not making this stuff up.

And now we have Loomis and his engineering skills. He studied ocean engineering in college.


Brodesky wrote in the piece, "This is so Tucson," which is exactly what Cigar Man wrote in a comment at the previous post about the Rio Nuevo fiasco.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Rio Nuevo Cloth Antics Continue

(Tucson, Arizona) Late last May we were led to believe that Donovan Durband, former Director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance, would be tapped to take the helm of the fledgling and sadly Cloth infested Rio Nuevo project, an enterprise that has managed to squander hundreds of millions of dollars to pay various characters to plan to study, study to plan, plan to pretend to study, create nice drawings of colorful bridges half a mile into the air over a wash, renderings of a new arena, a godawful effort to build a financial nightmare of a hotel near the TCC, and other shenanigans. Numerous blogs including this one as well as Star reporter Rob O'Dell have documented in considerable detail the embarrassing excuse for what a TIF district is supposed to be.

A few years ago, after then Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko went before the state legislature and acknowledged that $9 million had been spent which accomplished nothing (except stuffing certain coffers) for the community, the state came within a hair's breath of pulling the plug and shutting the whole mess down. It was THAT close, but alas, some well wishing individuals eager to salvage the effort from its corruption, suggested the entire board be replaced with individuals selected by the state, individuals who did not consider stuffing the pockets of well connected Clothmeisters as the prerequisite to scoring gigs for Rio Nuevo projects.

Their efforts worked, and a new board was established, minus Larry/Dan and their groupies - or so we had hoped.

Before we continue that path, flashback to 2007 or so when we had Durband running the Tucson Downtown Alliance. Briefly, businesses in a certain downtown area must pay an extra tax, the Business Improvement District (BID), whose funds are collected by the city and used to fund the Alliance. With these funds, Donovan most adeptly provided various services including the washing of the streets, security, marketing, Downtown Saturday Night, and other advocacy for the businesses paying this tax. These employers loved the Alliance and the work it performed to help them prosper.

The well functioning Alliance proved irresistible to Clothmeisters noted for their eagerness to take over or destroy anything that's working. (A training institute comes to mind.) So they usurped the Alliance, put Larry/Lynn, Inc. on its board, changed its name to the Tucson Downtown Partnership, and brought in Certified Cloth Aficionado Glen Lyons as the new director, bumping Durband to #2 briefly before booting him to give a sweet gig ($60K for a few hours a week) to Cara Rene, the wife of Nina Trasoff's chief of staff. Clothmeisters serve themselves, handing Lyons a $120+K salary to schmooze and provide downtown businesses positively nothing that could remotely occur as tangible. Need one ask what happened to the services formerly provided by the Alliance?

Returning to Rio Nuevo, the new board started trying to repair the damage and stop the incompetence, corruption, fuzzy bookkeeping, shady arrangements, and other FUBAR. New board member Alan Willenbrock, a razor sharp finance guy who calls a thing for what it is, choked on the $200M hotel being rammed down their throats, and loudly voiced his opposition to the fiasco, stating with conviction that it would hemorrhage profusely.

Well, this was inconvenient, so Clothmeisters had conflict of interest hound, Lewis&Roca/Rio Nuevo attorney Keri Silvyn write a letter asserting that Willenbrock had a conflict of interest. A decent person, Keri had spearheaded the Imagine Greater Tucson effort with the best of intentions. Anyway, key voices cited her letter to raise fears of legal action, and guess who was ousted from the board? For those who could see, the hypocrisy of those behind the assertion produced an involuntary retch. Key take away - "We may not be on the board, but we still want control, and those who don't do what we want will be removed."

So, who wanted that hotel so bad and why? Answer - Who would get a lot of money if it happened? Who serves those who would get a lot of money? Did anyone pay anyone for the privilege?

IMPORTANT POINT: If Donovan Durband were beholden to this cast of characters I loosely tag as "Cloth," they would have had no need for Glen Lyons. They would have used Durband and the Alliance for their greedy objectives and rewarded him handsomely. They brought in Lyons because Durband actually does serve the community and its best interests, not the greed of the well connected. Anyone with a sound mind and a conscience knows that Durband is part of the solution.

Regarding the 5-4 board vote to make him the Executive Director of Rio Nuevo, who were the five in favor and who were the four against? Those in the know can cite legions of material to support him. What do the four say about their votes? Not that it matters, for since when did a silly vote get in the way of Cloth objectives? After the board voted to give Durband the position, guess what?

Now it's time to bring in the big gun, Maestro Lewis&Roca attorney Si Schorr, operating at the level of no less than Lord Larry and Godfather Dan. Rio Nuevo Chairperson Jodi Bain calls for help, and soon enough Bain and new Rio Nuevo attorney Mark Collins get to chat with Keri, who (drum roll) opines that Donovan Durband might be perceived as having a conflict of interest. Jodi does not want Donovan to get that job, adamanti! Why? Is this really about a conflict of interest? What about Vice-Chair Mark Irvin's vote for $18 million in contracts that included Sundt Construction? Oh, Jodi Bain works for Town West, and who did she want to get the Rio Nuevo Director position instead of Durband? Larry Lewis.

This Larry Lewis (investment adviser for whom?). Anyone else notice that Town West has been buying up properties near downtown, say close to Stone and the railroad tracks? Any of that going on recently? Now why might Jodi want Larry so bad? Remember when I mentioned retching when certain characters allege a conflict of interest?

Anyone else curious that through the entire grueling process of vetting and screening the candidates, no one said a thing about this conflict of interest? Only after the board approved him, then and only then, did Jodi raise her concerns. Do you smell what I smell, "You mean I didn't get my guy?!!! F$%k!! Sh&%!! #&@#@$%!!!! Donovan%#$&Durband!! Get me Si Schorr NOW!!!"

Occam's Razor. This is a blatant attempt by Jodi (and the Cloth behind her) to overturn the vote of the board and keep Durband from getting the position. They want someone they can control. On a perhaps unrelated topic, why did attorney Gugino (chummy with Eckstrom, Hein, etc.) suddenly resign last March?

You do realize the FBI is investigating Rio Nuevo.

One can't imagine why.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Wee Bit of Scotland

(Stirling, Scotland) After decades of "one of these days" projections that never occurred, a lifelong desire to drive the roads of Scotland through its rich terrain of mountains, valleys, and countless lochs became reality last week. Not having the disposition for tour guides or packaged programs, I rented a car and selected my own routes, accompanied by my dear companion L on an adventure that for better or worse would be one of our own making.

L had the easier commute to Edinburgh, catching a Ryan discount flight from Berlin. My flight from Nashville, Tennessee required so much of Saturday, June 11, that it became Sunday, June 12. The free rental car upgrade resulted in a shiny new silver Mercedes E-Class with black interior and yes, the driver's seat on the right side of the car.

The five-minute drive to L's hotel required an hour, but I survived the plunge into the pool, the crash course, of driving on the left side of the road, navigating roundabouts, and unfamiliar traffic signs and signals. After several stops for directions and assistance (some males can in fact do this) and some navigational consternation, I arrived at the Edinburgh airport TraveLodge hotel, mentally preparing for Murphy's Law to prevail with the discovery that there were in fact two Edinburgh airport TraveLodge hotels and that I was at the wrong one.

(The Wallace Monument) These thoughts ended abruptly when L came running out of the building, smiling ear to ear. What a sweet embrace in the parking lot of a discount airport hotel. She grinned at the Mercedes, and before noon L and I were heading west on the M9, bound for Stirling, Scotland, its famous castle and other sites rich with historical drama. While Stirling is quite small (the smallest city in Scotland), its significance and importance rivals any location in the country. Upon arrival, we drove slowly, our eyes and minds devouring our surroundings. We parked near downtown. Within just hours of landing in Scotland, L and I were enjoying our first plates of fish and chips.

Our B&B did not expect us until 5, and my energy, while compromised, remained functional. We made our way to Stirling Castle and took our self-guided tour with informative audio guides that provided interesting and useful background information. In preparation for the trip I'd studied Scottish history in some detail, and this paid off as the audio guide presented much of the 1200 – 1700 period, in particular the highlights of Stuart kings and Mary, Queen of Scots, many of whom had lived or spent time at the castle. While I had planned to visit the William Wallace memorial, energy was waning, and the view of the monument from the castle was good enough for this trip. We returned to town and casually absorbed the ample smorgasbord of sights and sounds until it was time to “truly locate” the B&B, another little adventure.

(Girls learning what it was to be a maiden inside Stirling Castle) The Forth House Guesthouse offered immediate access to downtown Stirling, and after a power nap we walked into the city in search of a proper pub, which we found, a more or less locally frequented establishment featuring authentic Scottish fare. As we had heard and would soon verify, the Scottish pubs offered the perfect ambiance to relax and enjoy a meal and a drink. We suspected that Sunday evening at 7:00 differed from a weeknight, but the place filled most of its seats with a diverse set of folks including some touring couples like ourselves, younger locals, and a highly intoxicated man of about fifty seated alone at a table save a small piece of luggage and his pint, which he drank slowly.

Unlike the American establishments concentrated on milking patrons for as much money as possible as quickly as possible, the Scottish pubs served other objectives. The darkly yet warmly lit rooms produced an atmosphere I have craved as long as I can remember. They had lots of wood, wood floors, wood tables and chairs, wood bars, wood walls, wood shelves, wood stairs and railings, lots of wood. The fantastic bars had an ample row of taps for first rate ales and lagers chilled at separate temperatures. Behind the bars, well lit walls displayed richly stocked shelves full of liquor and in particular a Scotch selection to die for, not to mention a wine selection capable of pleasing all but the most uppity wine connoisseurs. Charging prices that allowed patrons to not only grab a bite, but stay awhile and have a second drink, or a third, the pubs provided community, as the saying goes, “where everybody knows your name.”

(Forth Guest House) We ordered the Scottish mainstay of haggis, neeps, and tatties, which came on a plate separated by oat cakes mounted vertically like walls between the three. Haggis is best enjoyed if one doesn't think about what it is. Yours truly sent a cautious fork into the dark, spiced concoction that looked like a combination of meat and dough. To my surprise, it was quite good. A few small doses of this stuff over the week would not hurt me. L ordered a Guinness and I enjoyed a dark Scottish brew not entirely different from some of the high quality ales produced in America's Midwest (the quality ones you won't find advertized on television). I loved the food, and in particular, the oat cakes. More on the oat cakes later.

A trip to the restroom spared me what L and other onlookers then witnessed, the intoxicated man flipping backward over his chair, feet over head as the last remnants of his beer sailed skyward. Not laughing or smiling, the humiliated soul sought to end his intimacy with the pub floor as quickly as possible, and before I could return, had scurried away as onlookers returned to their prior conversations.

L and I slowly walked the rather empty, Sunday evening streets of Stirling. In spirit I could have spent another three hours downing a few more pints and taking in the sights, turning to L as occasions warranted to share thoughts or observations, but in body by this time I was spent and running on the last remnants of fumes.

We awoke Monday morning for the second B of “B&B” and arrived at 8:04 AM for the published “8-9 AM” breakfast, and most fortunately, for the “8-9” meant starting at 8 and finishing at 9. One didn't start at 8:30. As all breakfasts this week would, it started with a selection of high quality cereals (although one choice was corn flakes, which almost no one chose) that had oats, nuts, dried fruit, heavy, substantive cereals that satisfied to which one could add fresh fruit and milk or yogurt. Then came the real breakfast of haggis, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, beans, bacon, potatoes, and dark pudding with choice of "white" or "brown" toast. We left Stirling well satiated and ready for a day of adventuresome driving across the extraordinary country in the border region between the lowlands and highlands. The drive did not disappoint, and I will remember it always.

Our trip took us northwest from Stirling towards Doune as L reminded me, “Keep left!” and we enjoyed spectacular “eye candy” of jaw dropping terrain that included not just the mountains and valleys, but a rich and diverse presentation of extraordinary colors and mixtures of colors. L's artistic eyes marveled in the delicious display of roadside flowers and other vegetation, the green of the grasses and hillsides, the Scottish summer skies of morning, afternoon, and night, and the architecture of town after town, each qualifying as a vacation destination with roadside B&B's for those choosing to stop, and water was everywhere. As I drove the Mercedes around curve after curve, up and down the hills, I kept thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. We were on his turf. I was driving through the Shire, expecting to see little hobbit mounds with their tiny wooden front doors and the peephole windows.

The A84 took us through the central lowlands, up through Doune, Callander, and to A85 over to Crianlarich. The highlands, Loch Ness, Inverness, Aberdeen, Perth, and the Highland and Speyside distilleries would have to wait for another trip. When we reached Dalmally and Loch Awe I knew we were close to a sight I really wanted to see, Kilchurn Castle, but we couldn't find it. As a particularly compelling hotel showed up on the left, L suggested we stop.

What a delightful, old hotel, a marvelous structure located right on the Loch with a fantastic view to the south. We admired the sight, and when we turned to our left, in the distance stood the castle. We doubled back from the hotel in search of a road to the castle. No road, but a footpath to the castle did exist.

Kilchurn Castle is considered the most professionally photographed castles in all of Scotland. While quite accessible, it is far enough from the tourist hot spots to escape the crowds. We had the place to ourselves - no audio guides, attending staff, and admission fees. L and I visited Kilchurn Castle proper, thoroughly exploring the 560 year old structure.

As we explored the various rooms and climbed to the higher stations in the structure, I found myself imagining what may be impossible to truly imagine, the many human experiences of people occupying the rooms of this building so long ago when it was the only building (other than tiny shacks) for many miles. Whatever the history books said, who really occupied these dark rooms centuries ago? Truth be told, who can say what is significant and what is not, but I am certain some of what occurred inside these walls never reached pen and paper.

From Kilchurn we continued west, and the Scottish terrain continued to amaze. I could only imagine from photographs how beautiful the highlands must be. My eyes welled up on several occasions. The history of the people in these lands involves considerable hardship and violence, but I couldn't help thinking that to some extent, “If you're lucky enough to live around here, then you're lucky enough.”

As we started getting closer to Oban, my attention became increasingly focused on the clock and the time remaining to catch the 6 PM ferry to Islay. We nixed the plans to visit the Oban distillery in favor of using extra time to visit other sites as we headed south in what proved to be an excellent choice. We shared a quick lunch of fish and chips in Oban, stocked up on British cash, and headed south. L noticed a place on the map called Kilmartin that had dozens of historic sites. We stopped and found ourselves looking at the Kilmartin Stones. Only later did I learn that we had in fact been through the heart of Kilmartin Glen, one of the greatest concentrations of ancient monuments in Scotland.

When we reached the Kennacraig port, we still had time to visit a castle, this one just a wee bit off the usually traveled path (as if Kennacraig were not already a wee bit off said path), Skipness Castle, located near the remote village of Skipness.

The drive to Skipness featured what we did not know would be a preview of coming attractions, a tiny, single lane road barely wide enough for one vehicle. To allow traffic in both directions, pullouts to the left occurred every several hundred yards. The consideration of oncoming traffic became a vital component of using these roads, and failing to do so would be delinquent driving. Drivers were expected to note oncoming traffic as soon as it was visible. Whoever had the first turnoff would signal this with a flash of headlights and turn to their left on the little space provided.

The tiny road to Skipness became even tinier after turning left towards the castle. Again accessible only on foot, as we hiked I wondered how many of the Scots themselves had actually made it to this place. While inside the ruins of Skipness Castle, once again I wondered who had been inside this place at its prime, whatever its prime might have been, and what constituted their lives.

We weren't on the ferry for the island called home by the distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bunnahabian, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, and the almost brand new Kilcharin for fifteen minutes before we were talking about scotch with one of the locals returning to the island. The ferry served Scotch with dinner during the ride, but we opted for “Black Rock Ale,” one of the brews produced by an Islay brewery located near Bowmore.


As anticipated, the drive from Port Askaig to Port Ellen occurred without incident and provided a brief introduction to the island, taking us through Bowmore and past the Bowmore distillery. We arrived at the B&B around 9:30, and our host invited us into the living room for an explanation of the accommodations, pouring a generous “taste” of an Islay whisky blend known as Black. When I finished the taste, he poured a second one.

(Kildaton Cross) Our first morning on the island began with a breakfast feast featuring haggis that was delicious and SPICY! Amply fueled with another fine morning meal, we headed east for the “wee bit” of a drive I had fantasized for the better part of a decade, the drive from Port Ellen to the distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. We passed Laphroaig as we would be touring it that afternoon and stopped at Lagavulin, touring their gift shop and walking around, but it still felt a little early for tasting and shopping, and in the mind that I would be returning here, I didn't buy anything but took note of the 20cl bottles and some of the glasses and other items. In light of everything that would be coming up, I'm not sure what made me think I would actually make it back.

The reception room at Ardbeg occurred like the entrance to heaven itself, and my concern for the time of day evaporated. Let the tasting begin, and ohh, the water of life indeed! I must have had 5 tastes of different versions of the beyond delicious whisky for the Islay scotch lover. I bought a 50ml miniature to later perform something I had always wanted to do, a side by side comparison of Laphroaig and Ardbeg. I've thought about this comparison for years.

After Ardbeg, L and I headed up the east coast of the island towards the ancient ruins of Kidalton. The Kidalton Cross is considered one of the finest remaining high crosses in Scotland, carved in the late 8th century. This Cross was crafted 100 years closer to the crucifixion of Christ than to our visit today. We walked around the tombstones, reading the engravings and looking at the countryside. Other than an elderly couple who departed shortly after we arrived, we were the only people in sight.

That afternoon we entered the Laphroaig distillery and tasted the 10 year, the Cask Strength, and the 18 year. The 18 year Laphroaig is quite possibly the best scotch I have ever tasted. Over the next 90 minutes, we watched and learned in great detail the process which produced the incredible spirits we were drinking. I bought a bottle of the 10 year, and we returned to the B&B for some delightful R&R. Refreshed, we found a terrific restaurant in Bowmore right on Loch Indaal with floor to ceiling windows looking over the water.

(Peat, a dense, rich soil full of decomposing vegetation on its way to becoming oil, is placed on burning coals to produce a thick smoke which rises up to the next floor over the barley, giving Laphroaig its strong peaty flavor.)

"Whisky" (without the e) refers to products distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, or Japan. "Whiskey" indicates it was made in the United States or Ireland. In 1968 the USA's Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms decreed that America would adopt the first spelling. So many American distilleries told the ATF what they could do with their decree that it backed down and let producers use the spelling of their choice.

Wednesday started with a slightly smaller yet terrific breakfast before we headed up the single lane 8016 to bypass Bowmore and head directly into Bridgend and over to the Islay House Square, which featured a series of shops and art galleries, Islay Ales, the brewery which produced the ales we enjoyed on the ferry, and a marvelous community maintained garden enclosed by stone walls. We tasted more brews, bought some whisky fudge, and looked at the galleries.

A short drive took us to the Woollen Factory, a historic facility whose owner had established contracts serving the Prince of Wales and other dignitaries. The owner, easily in his late sixties, bought the factory decades ago. It now featured a variety of tartan weave, as well as solid cashmere/mink blends, thick wool blankets and scarves, and other “home grown and made” wool products of the highest quality. He personally greeted the two of us and then offered to walk us through his domain. Some of the extraordinary machines had been in operation for dozens of years.

We headed for Portnahaven, an exquisite little village that seemed like a place at the edge of the world far out of reach of all things bad on the planet. As far as we could tell, few people and fewer (if any) tourists were around. L struck up a conversation with an elderly woman having lived in Portnahaven all of her life, a reality I can't even pretend to grasp. The woman shared that during the 1950's, she and a friend had all of the papers and arrangements to move to the United States, arrangements that included green cards, apartments, and employment. At the last minute, she had changed her mind and decided to stay. For 50 years, she has wondered what life might have been had she left.

That ponder is a cerebral rabbit hole without a bottom.

(Portnahaven as seen reflected from a window of one of the properties along the coast) That evening, we enjoyed one of those meals one will remember for life, seafood that for the most part one simply doesn't get at a restaurant, at least not in such quantities. It started with scallops, huge scallops including the attachments with the eggs (which I had never seen before, let alone eaten), presented inside of a sauce making it appear like a soup. After this "scallop soup" came the main dish, more lobster and crab than you could eat, masterfully pre-cut so only minimal effort was required to extract the meat. Our host knew the local fishermen who went to sea each day, "Everything you are eating was in the sea this morning."

The food occurred to bottomless glasses of whisky and beer. When I said that I couldn't possibly have the coffee and dessert, our host smiled, “At least taste the coffee.”

Oh my Lord. The coffee, some kind of remarkable concoction, proved irresistible. I turned to its maker, my eyes wide. He grinned, "Yeah, it has whisky.”

With the coffee came more oat cakes, a rather dry food unlikely to appeal to most, but I loved them, and perhaps due to the alcohol, as I ate them after this meal I became overwhelmed with emotions I didn't fully understand. If our host could tell, he kept it to himself as my eyes grew moist and my lower lip started to quiver, but L knew at once and could see my struggle to remain composed. If I had been alone, I would have been sobbing like a little boy. Instead, I managed with regular wipes of my eyes and the occasional napkin over my mouth. There is something about those oat cakes that stirs something deeper than I can reach, calling to memories I no longer have.

One doesn't lie down after such a feast. For the remainder of our last night on the island, we walked hand in hand in the never ending dusk beneath a sun that took four hours to set, a walk in as much silence as speaking, listening to everything.

Thursday morning we caught the ferry off the island and found ourselves in Kennacraig at 11 AM, ready to head north to Lochgilphead and over through Inverary, down along the famous Loch Lamond, and then into Glasgow. As we descended from rural to urban, population density spiraled and the transportation options grew complex. We chose a course right into the heart of Glasgow and slowed to the downtown pace of stop and go through the city.

We reached the Edinburgh airport, returned the shiny Mercedes, caught the bus downtown, and taxied to the B&B. Our new hosts were exquisitely British, “If you walk to the castle, you will arrive in 17 minutes. If you stop for directions, you will arrive in 19 minutes. If you leave, shut the windows entirely, for the rain comes at the building sideways.”

After hearing his advice on nice walks to gardens, reasonable walks for groceries, and not so nice walks to avoid, we asked for his thoughts on a nearby pub with character and affordable prices. He suggested the Conan Doyle, a pub named after the Sherlock Holmes author who had frequented the place during his prime. In case our “affordable” was less modest than might be presumed, he couldn't resist suggesting another option, a fine establishment with exquisite fare at triple digit pound per person prices, but then added, “You likely require reservations.”

We had neither reservations nor the inclination to part with triple digit pounds per person, and walked the three blocks along Broughton Street to the Conan Doyle, and in just that walk we noticed more pubs, cafes, wine shops, boutiques, and city markets than existed on the entire island of Islay. We were farther from the island than a boat ride and a drive. I noticed the creative economy of space both inside the buildings and outdoors, where some rooms had widths of just a few feet, sinks extending only inches from the wall, yards behind buildings split by stone walls into narrow slits of turf, one per residence. Space was not left idle, and tiny balconies and micro-porches held meticulously maintained vegetable or flower gardens.

The Edinburgh Castle attracts thousands of visitors per day, so I wanted to arrive early Friday morning and begin with what I expected would be a bottleneck where the lines could get long – the Royal Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny. The Castle had an interesting and informative exhibition taking about 20 minutes to traverse on the way through the building to the jewels. For this part of the castle, photography and the use of cell phones were prohibited.

I won't add to the abundant material on the castle, save to remark that in the Scottish National War Memorial, dedicated to those Scots who served and died in WWI and WWII, one of the displays contained captured flags from Japan and Nazi Germany. As I stood there, looking at the two flags, it occurred to me that this was the first time in my life I stood face to face with a real Nazi flag. Though behind glass, the flags were up front and viewers could get within inches. The Japanese flag, as real as reality gets, had dozens and dozens of Japanese signatures, clearly a flag of some importance. I looked at each flag for quite some time.

(The Elephant House, where Harry Potter author JK Rowling wrote many of her early novels) After the castle we walked the Royal Mile, a tourist saturated collection of shops and restaurants serving its volumes of visitors. Even here, the ever perceptive and resourceful L found a remarkably quiet and reasonable restaurant where she enjoyed a Guinness and a rich salad heavily laden with goat cheese. I couldn't resist the “Wallace Special,” a hamburger topped with haggis. After lunch we reached the end of the Royal Mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, noticing a marked increase in access control and security measures. In the gift shop it became clear why. The place serves as one of the official residences of the Queen of England. We passed on both the tour of the palace and the abundance of souvenirs associated with Buckingham Palace, leaving the Mile for a stroll through downtown Edinburgh. By this time, my capacity for new data was tapped.

After R&R at the B&B, we caught a bus further into town for live music, Stramash, a small and quite intimate musical concert where 5 musicians played for an audience of only 20 or 30, allowing face to face conversation between all after the show. We arrived in time to first have dinner and selected a pub of the more popular, energetic variety for our last plate of fish and chips with her usual Guinness and my dark, Scottish ale. After the show, we walked the streets of Edinburgh past the countless pubs full of Friday night festivities amongst the wood, the well lit shelves, the whisky, and the lively conversations of the patrons.

In so short a visit we only scratched the wee surface of the rich and deep, but it provided a taste, a taste as thought provoking as unforgettable.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Donovan Durband to head Rio Nuevo

Some may remember that Donovan Durband once served as the able and well respected Director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance, an adept organization that promoted downtown and provided a variety of services supporting downtown businesses and activities.

During the period where Cloth Aficionados were plundering various agencies and stealing their funding, their eyes turned to the Alliance, and they replaced Durband (salaried in the $60K range) with Clothmeister Glen Lyons ($120K+), doubled the size of its board, and changed its name to the Downtown Tucson Partnership. Lyons promptly ousted Durband so he could hire the wife of a city council member's chief of staff. The DTP quickly devolved and became yet another cheer leading squad for the local boondoggles.

While the public could easily overlook TREO's stealing a few hundred grand from the various agencies that actually did something, the amply documented Rio Nuevo saga produced an outrage even the most talented Clothmeisters could not suppress. Its former director Greg Shelko, as well as Glen Lyons and said wife he hired, found other employers to pay them to occasionally show up. The FBI is now investigating Rio Nuevo, and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup is not running for re-election.

Think what you like of Republican city councilman Steve Kozachik, but make no mistake, the man is no clothophile. He even suggested that the generously funded likes of TREO and MTCVB have performance measures, and imagine the gall, that the performance against these measures be reviewed.

Durband stayed in town when his agency was destroyed and accepted a position on Kozachik's staff, hardly putting him into the cloth corner, and now he has been tapped to take the helm of Rio Nuevo. Does this mean he's drunk the Cloth kool-aid and participated in their indoctrination programming? Is this an effort to take his talents away from a recalcitrant council member? Time will tell, but not likely.

It's difficult to imagine a former Kozachik staff member advising various contractors to pay Larry/Dan consulting for consideration in lucrative Rio Nuevo deals to produce plans for studies and blueprints for strategies. I don't see it.

Donovan Durband is accepting a difficult job in an environment where patience and the benefit of the doubt have been bled past dry. Greedy schmucks and self-absorbed egos are in every meeting. Perhaps the overarching presence of an FBI investigation and a new Mayor that can do something other than cheer for the charade will assist the efforts to transform a cloth windfall into a productive project for downtown Tucson.

By the way, Donovan, I've got an awesome idea for this really cool bridge.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Republicers

Birthers – don’t believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.
Deathers – don’t believe Osama Bin Laden is dead.
Machisnos – don’t believe Barack Obama is a man.
Femnots – don’t believe Michelle Obama is a woman.
Orphanistas – don’t believe Barack Obama’s daughters are his own.
Terrestrials – think Obama was born in outer space.
Retrocashists – think Obama ran up the national debt 1980 – 2008.
Blacksassins – think Obama was the second gunman on the grassy knoll.
Stealthallahs – think Obama is secretly a Muslim.
Underkoshers – think Obama is secretly Jewish.
Barackspins – think Obama is a whirling Dervish.
Obamalamas – think Obama is the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Hityouthers – think Obama is descended from a love child born to Hitler in 1943
Barackatrinas – think Obama caused the 2005 hurricane in New Orleans.
Obamahots – think Obama invented global warming.
Obamabots – think Obama is a robot controlled by the Dark Lord Nazzerath of the Meldikon Empire in the Goryilliath system.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Tale of Two 5/1's


(Above - May 1, 2011. President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, White House Chief of Staff William Daley, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and other officials watch the mission unfold in Abbattabod, Pakistan.) The reality of the situation drips from the photograph, the expressions in the room showing the gravitas of competence in the face of difficulty and risk. Count the smiles in the room.


Contrast the faces in the May 1, 2011 photo with that of the May 1, 2003 photo of George W Bush declaring "Mission Accomplished" while Iraq's condition continued to deteriorate, Afghanistan remained a total mess, and Osama Bin Ladin remained very much alive.

May 1, 2003 - Mission Accomplished without the accomplishments

May 1, 2011 - Mission Accomplished without the smiles


SOMETHING ELSE