Friday, November 11, 2011
At 11 on 11/11/11
In Canada, Australia, India, Kenya, the UK, and the remainder of the 54 Commonwealth nations, today is Remembrance Day, a holiday honoring those who gave their lives for King (or Queen) and country while serving in the armed forces. As such, Remembrance Day is much more like our Memorial Day.
In my youth, this holiday was alternatively called Armistice Day. Officially, it became Veterans Day in 1954, but of course many adults kept calling it by its original name for years and years thereafter. The armistice referred to in the earlier title was the one that ended hostilities on the Western Front of the Great War. That occurred, famously, in Marshal Foch’s railway car, deep in France’s Forest of Compiègne. Though signed by representatives of Germany, France, and the Allies in the wee hours of that morning, the agreed-upon time for the laying-down of arms was “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”.
Today, on the 93rd anniversary of that armistice, on this Veterans Day, we can go that timestamp one better, adding “of the 11th year”. Hence, my decision to publish this epistle at 11am on 11/11/11.
I’ve written posts marking Veterans Day on almost every November 11 since opening Peace Tree Farm in 2003. Somehow, I missed the day last year, breaking a seven-year streak. In case you’re interested, here are links to those essays:
- On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (2003)
- Eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month ... again (2004)
- 11th, 11th, 11th ... Veterans Day (2005)
- How will this war be memorialized? (2006)
- On Veterans Day (2007)
- A different sort of Veterans Day (2008)
- Lest we forget (2009)
But you don’t have to be a veteran to honor those who did serve. So here’s to Shaun Dale, whose blog Upper Left has been running almost as long as my own, and to Michael Hood of the well-respected BlatherWatch. Here’s to HorsesAss commenter-extraordinaire Roger Rabbit and to Robby, occasional HA commenter and erstwhile blogger on the late, lamented Effin’Unsound, as well as my DailyKos buddy rickeagle. And also a salute to my Congressman Jim McDermott, one of only 90 House members with military service of any sort. Jim was a Navy psychiatrist treating sailors and soldiers with PTSD during the Vietnam War (to be fair, both of Washington’s Republican Congressmen, Dave Reichert and Doc Hastings, were reservists).
And, in fact, greetings and salutations in honor of all of the veterans hereabouts.
[Adapted and cross-posted from HorsesAss.org]
Thursday, October 20, 2011
And you call yourself a politician??
[Crossposted from HorsesAss.org]
When the Washington State Democrats hold their annual “Maggies” (Warren G. Magnuson Awards dinner/fundraiser) on Saturday, the keynote speaker will be former two-term Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak. In and of itself, that’s not particularly notable ... the WA Dems bring in an out-of-stater every year. Last year it was Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin, and previous speakers include Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean.
Joe Sestak is a different kind of politician. I refer not only to his biography—the highest-ranked military officer ever elected to Congress (he was a three-star Vice Admiral), commander of a carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, deputy to the Chief of Naval Operations, National Security Council liaison, director of a top-secret Navy counterterrorism unit —but to some unusual-for-a-politician attributes.
I’ve been a Sestak fan for quite some time. Not long after he first decided to run for Congress in 2006, he participated in the YearlyKos (now Netroots Nation) gathering in Las Vegas. In his post-YK diary post, I wrote the following comment:
At that YearlyKos panel, Massa strutted and shouted, even tearing off his dress shirt at one point to reveal some clever (he thought) t-shirt. Though I had no idea he’d turn out to be so wacky, it was readily apparent to me that he was hiding behind all the noise he made. On the other hand, Sestak spoke slowly and carefully, but it was evidently from the heart and deeply personal. The authority and passion of his presentation made it clear how such a soft-spoken man could have inspired sailors in a combat zone.
thank you, Admiral
I knew very little about you before attending YK, but since returning home I’ve made a (very small, alas) contribution to your campaign through ActBlue.
I don’t want to sound like I’m dissing Eric Massa, your colleague on the panel at YK, because I appreciate his fire. But I found your quiet, measured, from-the-soul passion far more compelling than his fervor. I can imagine that in a debate against Curt Weldon’s delusional bombast, your approach will be all the more effective.
Your words carry immense authority. As a non-military person, I find myself reassessing my views on the military if a man with a style such as yours can so successfully command a carrier battle group.
I grew up across the Delaware, in Cherry Hill. So most of the towns and locations you mentioned are familiar to me. I wish you the best of luck in your campaign, and hope that I’ll be able to put together the funds to send along some additional tangible $upport.
I made small contributions as well to Sestak’s 2008 re-election campaign and to his Senate campaign in 2010. In that one, he edged
Republican Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary but lost narrowly to Club For Growth teahadist Pat Toomey in November.
As a longtime backer, I wasn’t particularly surprised when I received an email from Sestak a couple of weeks ago. After all, I get messages daily, from dozens and dozens of candidates, legislators, and interest groups. The content, however, was completely unexpected. Noting that he’d soon be here in Seattle (though he didn’t mention the reason for the visit), he invited me and his other Washington supporters to join him for coffee on Saturday so that he could thank us for our help. That was all ... just to thank us, just to meet us. No request for a check or Paypal or credit card, not even to “retire his campaign debt”. There was no “ask” of any sort.
To say this action was unusual is a vast understatement. I don’t recall anything remotely like it in my years of political activities. Politicians don’t go out of their way to thank (or even notice) small donors like me. Hell, they don’t take a step from morning to night without pleading for cash. Yet here’s Joe Sestak, 3000 miles from home, who wants to spend an hour or so doing precisely the opposite.
Not to suggest a deeper meaning, I’m macabrely amused by the keynoter choices of the WA Dems and WA GOP at their big fundraisers. On Tuesday, the WSRP’s Fall Dinner featured political trickster/Plame unmasker/US Attorney firer/Dubya inventor/secret superPAC creator Karl Rove. The guy whose friend Dubya calls him Turd Blossom. The guy who, through his shadowy American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS organizations, funneled nearly $5,000,000 into last year’s Murray-Rossi race.
Make of the Sestak vs. Rove comparison what you will. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to shooting the shit with Joe on Saturday.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Majority-minority? I doubt it
Last Thursday, Pramila Jayapal and George Cheung of United for Fair Representation wrote an op-ed column in the Seattle Times. Though it ended up on the doorsteps of a couple hundred thousand readers, their opinion piece was actually addressed to an audience of four—the members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission.
Jayapal and Cheung are challenging the Commissioners to create a “majority-minority” Congressional District at their next public meeting, tomorrow morning in Olympia. They’ll probably get their wish ... which, sad to say, might eventually work against their interests.
Before explaining what I mean, we need some background information. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 contains several provisions that bar racial discrimination in redistricting plans. Sixteen states are required to go through “preclearance” of their plans, automatic submission to their plans to the feds; Washington is not one of those states. In practice, application of the VRA has resulted in district lines that collect members of a racial group into one district, thereby greatly increasing the probability that that CD will be represented by a member of that group. One might call it “reverse gerrymandering”, concentrating a group instead of diluting their influence by drawing districts that put small pockets of the group into several districts dominated by other ethnicities. In creating such Congressional Districts, you can end up with some really ludicrous maps. For instance, look at Illinois’s 4th District, in which the two convoluted sections of Chicago’s Latino communities are connected by the median strip of I-294.
Another majority-minority district is the 12th District of North Carolina, which crawls along I-85 picking up African-American communities while skipping past other towns. It even looks a little bit like the original 1812 gerrymander.
Those two CDs, and others around the country, achieved the goal of fostering diversity in the House of Representatives. Luis Gutiérrez represents IL-04 in Washington and the Congressman from NC-12 is African-American Mel Watt. But I doubt that the same could easily happen if our Redistricting Commission takes the advice of Jayapal and Cheung, because any such district would be majority-minorities. Unlike the largely Mexican-American IL-04 or the mostly black NC-12, a Washington district would be Eritrean and Pakistani, Thai and Guatemalan, Indian and American Indian, Vietnamese and African-American, Iraqi and Filipino ... on and on and on. No race, no language group, no national origin would predominate. Some of those groups are antagonistic to others—would a Bengali vote for a Pakistani? a Honduran for a Salvadoran? an Iraqi for an Iranian? With such splintering, in a multi-candidate electoral race, it just might turn out that someone from the largest single demographic group in the CD (non-Hispanic whites) would win.
This is not to suggest that racial identity would be the reason for any citizen to vote for a particular candidate. I’m merely saying that the situation wouldn’t be nearly as cut-and-dried as it would be in a locale with a large concentration of a single racial/ethnic group.
There’s another issue as well. Republicans love majority-minority Congressional Districts. Racial minorities are generally Democrats, and concentrating a racial group into, say, a 75-25 Democratic district may make it possible to generate a bunch of 53-47 Republican CDs around it. That’s probably not the case in Illinois, where the excluded middle of IL-04 is largely a black community, but it certainly applies to North Carolina. And it could happen in Washington as well.
In their op-ed, Jayapal and Cheung summarize the first round of Redistricting Commission maps (emphasis added):
Republican commissioners Slade Gorton and Tom Huff and Democratic commissioner Tim Ceis made strong and positive statements that reflected their appreciation for people’s participation in the process and their belief that there was a real need for this change. Huff’s map exactly matched our unity map. No maps had all of our asks reflected but many had some and we will continue to push for as much representation as possible for people of color.While Tom Huff may have given United for Fair Representation what they want, he found a lot of ways to screw Democrats. His map, IMHO, is even more Republican-friendly than
Tomorrow, we’ll get to see each Commissioner’s second iteration. It will be interesting to see who has moved his boundaries the most, as well as who has hardened his position. I still have confidence that the Commission will agree on a final map by the end of the year. And I think it’ll have a majority-minorities Congressional District. But I don’t have much confidence that the m-m district will be represented by a minority group Congress(wo)man. If Tom Huff or Slade Gorton gets his way, it will be slightly more difficult to elect enough Democrats to retake control of the House from the crazies who run it these days. And a Democratic Congress would do far, far more for Jayapal and Cheung (and the rest of us) than building the Congressional District they seek.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
A full decade
At the time it started, I was in a meeting room at the Hunt Valley Marriott in Maryland. The conference, full of researchers from all over the country and Medicare staffers from the agency’s nearby headquarters, was scheduled to run through Friday morning. I believe it was one of the Medicare database admins, a good ole boy named Gary, who informed us that the WTC had been hit. Don’t recall whether this was after the first or second plane, nor do I remember whether he told us about the Pentagon, some 60 miles from the hotel.
While the conference ostensibly continued, most of us spent the next several days like everyone else ... watching TV as the events unfolded. Between plenary sessions, it was even shown on the big screens in the hotel ballroom. We heard facts and rumors, speculations and opinions.
Supposedly, the Baltimore region was close to lockdown on Tuesday, but a bunch of us did find a restaurant over on York Road, the main drag of the area. Still, a lot of places were shut down that night. None of us tried to take the nearby light rail to the Inner Harbor or any other in-town destinations.
Many wanted to forget about the conference and hightail it back to their hometowns, but of course the airports were closed. Rental car companies changed their policies, allowing renters to drive their vehicles home instead of back to BWI. Though I never got confirmation, I’m told that the group from Oregon took them up on that offer and drove the 2800 miles back to Portland. I don’t think any of the Washingtonians drove home, but neither do I remember how any of my coworkers got back to Seattle.
As for me, I’d previously made plans to extend my visit through the weekend. This was, after all, only six months after I’d moved from working with the Medicare quality improvement contractor for NH/VT/ME to the one for (at that time) WA/ID/AK, so my East Coast ties were still very fresh. My intention had been that after finishing the conference on Friday, I would take light rail to the Baltimore train station, Amtrak to Philadelphia, and SEPTA regional rail to Doylestown. From there, my brother would pick me up so that I could visit his family at their place 20 miles farther north, near Lake Nockamixon. I was scheduled to fly out of tiny Lehigh Valley International Airport ("international" equals puddlejumper trips to Toronto) on Sunday afternoon.
Now, however, Amtrak would be full beyond capacity. Every seat between Baltimore and Philadelphia was long-since reserved, with dozens and dozens of other hopefuls already turned away (if they got through the overloaded switchboards at all). So how was I going to get to where I needed to go?
Thankfully, one of my former NE/VT/ME colleagues had chosen to take up his rental car company’s offer to allow long-distance rentals. He was going to drive back up to New Hampshire when the conference ended, and was happy to offer me assistance. And it was a lot of assistance ... not just to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, not just to the SEPTA station in Doylestown, but right to my brother’s door. Couldn’t ask for better help than that!
By the time I was ready to head back to Seattle on Sunday, the airlines were running something approximating a normal schedule. The backup of unflown Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday trips had been handled. I wasn’t worried about the short hop from ABE to PIT (the principal USAirways hub back then), but the PIT-SEA nonstop hadn’t restarted until Friday or Saturday.
Even at little ABE, concrete barriers already barred parking near the terminal. Which was a bit awkward at ABE, as virtually all of its parking lots were close-in. My brother went into the terminal with me, if only to observe the reconfigured security procedures. It was nothing particularly onerous, actually less stringent than today’s. No shoe-removal, no 3-ounce rule.
Once through security, I sat quietly awaiting boarding. The gate wasn’t even close to filled with travelers. How unfilled? Well, in those days, I had lots of USAirways miles, some of which I’d used to upgrade to first class for this cross-country flight. So I was ready to go at the first boarding call. But before I could show my ticket to the gate agent, the “all remaining rows” announcement was made! The plane (a 737, I think) was only about 1/10 full.
It was just about the same on the long trip home from Pittsburgh. Any passenger who wanted a private row could get one. I had a bit of company in first class, but not much. I think they may have already established the rule against metal utensils, but at least they still fed passengers in those days.
Being that close to the nexus of the attacks was disconcerting. In the end, though, my own travels were only slightly affected. What I most remember about that fateful week is the utter shock, the utter feeling of this can’t be happening. I had read Debt of Honor (Tom Clancy is a bit of a guilty pleasure), but this was even more preposterous than a real pilot crashing his plane into the Capitol. Especially with the twin towers collapsing in on themselves an hour or two after being struck. Especially with four hijackings at the same time. Especially with the
Bush Cheney administration’s criminal unpreparedness, treasonous shift of war target, corrupt thievery, insults to freedom and liberty, ruination of the nation’s and world’s financial activities, bombastic false patriotism.
Of course, that last laundry list was still in the ruinous future on September 11. In the initial jolting shock of that fundamentalist sociopath Osama bin Laden’s outrageous attacks, we didn’t know anything about the rathole they were plotting to shove us into.
We were, in a sense, brought together as a nation, as a society, by what transpired on September 11. The “they” I just mentioned—the ones who have ripped us apart, destroyed our national and international fabric, brought us to the depressing uncertainty of the present day—were our own domestic sociopathic (mal)administration in Washington DC.
Even bin Laden, and even Clancy, couldn’t have written that scenario.
Thursday, September 01, 2011
My NL East ballparks: New York
A product of the National League’s first expansion of the twentieth century, the New York Mets are (can you believe it??) in their 50th year of existence. They began in 1962 as the punchline of a very bad joke, featuring antique manager Casey Stengel and a motley crew of retreads, has-beens, never-wases, and never-will-bes tottering to a legendarily-awful 40-120 inaugural season.
They quickly got better, riding a number of extremely good pitchers—Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, and others—to a 100-62 record and a shocking five-game World Series upset of powerful Baltimore a mere seven years later. Oh yeah, future HOFer Nolan Ryan was a Miracle Met too, though he contributed little during his tenure in New York. They won the NL again, but lost the World Series, in 1973. At 82-79, that club was for many years the weakest Division-winner in history; they were eclipsed by San Diego in 2005 (82-80), though both would undoubtedly have been topped (bottomed?) by the AL West “victor” had the 1994 season been completed ... when the strike cut that season short, the 52-62 Texas Rangers had the least awful record in the American League West. Ugh!
Anyway, the Mets won another World Series in 1986. That’s the year of Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6, when the Boston Red Sox somehow failed to gain their fourth Series win after holding a two-run lead with two outs and nobody on base in the ninth inning. Since then, the Mets have played in only four postseasons, reaching the World Series once (falling to the Yankees in the 2000 Subway Series), and losing three times in the NLCS (1988, 1999, 2006). Between those occasional high points, in recent decades the Mets have been more a sideshow than a show—ownership controversies, star burnouts, free-agent busts, financial mismanagement, drug scandals, managerial failures.
While awaiting the construction of their new ballpark, the Mets played in the Polo Grounds for their first two years. Abandoned by the Giants when they left for San Francisco after the 1957 season, the ballpark below Coogan’s Bluff was a cavernous edifice with very short foul lines and very long dimensions everywhere else. I didn’t see any games in the Polo Grounds, nor will I ever; it was demolished in 1964, the same year that Shea Stadium opened in conjunction with the 1964 World’s Fair (and on pretty much the same Flushing Meadows footprint as the 1939 World’s Fair). Named for the NYC powerbroker who had coerced MLB into expansion, Shea was something of a prototype for the cookie-cutters of the next decade ... circular, symmetrical, and multipurpose. It had the advantage of not being completely enclosed by stands—as shown in the accompanying photo, few of Shea’s seats were in fair territory (the left field structure was identical, minus the big scoreboard). That’s why its capacity was “only” about 57,000, versus the 65-70K in most of the cookie-cutters. Unfortunately, the vista from the stands was of a nondescript Queens landscape rather than the majestic city skylines favored in most of the recent retro parks. The lower deck stands were moveable, and the NFL’s Jets played there for two decades. And of course, Shea Stadium was famously the New York venue for both The Beatles in 1965 and Pope John Paul II in 1979.
Although I lived a mere 90 miles away as a kid, and although my grandfather in Manhattan had reluctantly transferred his allegiance from the “Jints” to the Mets, I saw very few ballgames at Shea. It’s possible that I went there once or twice in the 1970s, but I can’t confirm that. In fact, my only certain games in Shea Stadium were on consecutive days, June 27 and 28, 1991. The SABR convention was in New York that summer, and I watched the Mets beat Montreal 4-3 on Thursday afternoon and then lose to the Phillies 6-2 on Friday night. Nothing particularly memorable in either game, and the stadium may have been even less memorable. Using the 1991 dates, Shea Stadium was #18 on my ballpark life list.
Uninspiring as it was when I visited, Shea must have been really rundown by 2008, its final season. Its reputation among ballpark devotees was quite low by the end. I haven’t yet been to a game at Citi Field, the home of the Mets since 2009. It too is located in Flushing Meadows; as in numerous other cities, the new place was built in the parking lots next to the old one, and the site of the demolished stadium eventually became a parking lot for its replacement. Citi Field on my to-do list, of course, but I have no immediate plans to add the new place to my life list. Hopefully, by the time I finally get there, some corporation other than the uber-vile Citibank will own the naming rights.
Because I’m running through each Division alphabetically by city name, the next club on my list are the Phillies, my lifelong favorite team (I was following them while the Dodgers and Giants were still in New York). With all that personal history, it promises to be a long post, replete with boxscores and who knows what else…