Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Only Emperor Is the Emperor of San Francisco

Philadelphia has Ben Franklin -- wit, statesman, inventor, and civic innovator, who brought us the Library Company, the fire department, street lights, and bifocals. In return, we have immortalized his countenance on the $100 bill.

San Francisco has the illustrious Joshua Norton (1819-1880). A friend of Mark Twain’s (who once wrote a eulogy for Norton’s dog), Norton was a respected and beloved figure in Victorian San Francisco. He directed that Sacramento, the state capitol, should clean up its muddy streets and add gas lighting. He deplored the strife between the Democratic and Republican parties and did his best to end it. Queen Victoria was one of his correspondents.

Norton did his best to make San Francisco a good place to live. He paid close personal attention to such matters as unobstructed sidewalks and a respectful police force. He once stopped an anti-Chinese riot by standing between the rioters and their intended victims, while he softly recited the Lord's Prayer.

He sensibly proclaimed, "Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word 'Frisco,' which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor." The fine was $25.

His plans for a bridge from Oakland to San Francisco via Goat Island were well ahead of their time. When the Bay Bridge was finally built -- 60 years after he issued orders for it -- a plaque honored his vision for the spanning of San Francisco Bay.

When he died, the city shut down in mourning, and his funeral was attended by 20,000 people. Later his remains were reburied at Colma, with full military honors and a crowd of 60,000 attendees.

So who was Joshua Norton? Governor of California, like Leland Stanford? Mayor of San Francisco, like Willie Brown? No. He was a businessman who came to the city with $40,000 (a fortune in his day) and lost it all trying to corner the rice market. He then went insane and proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He even issued his own scrip money.

But he was a beloved madman, highly respected by the people. Policemen saluted him; gentlemen tipped their hats. When an overzealous cop arrested him and tried to have him involuntarily committed, the uproar was so great that he was released within days. On the US Census and in the city directory, his profession was listed as Emperor. He was even permitted to tax his subjects.

The Emperor Norton exemplifies all that is best about the Bay Area: its genial loopiness, its visionary quality, its racial and ethnic tolerance, and its sense of humor. Now the Bay Bridge is being rebuilt, and there is a campaign to rename it for him.

Show your support for our Emperor. Let's honor the wise and kind ruler who is still the patron saint of our city.
The Plague of Hurricanes

With four hurricanes within weeks of each other -- one of which turned around and came back for seconds -- clearly God is sending a message to Florida. This battleground state is one of the most important for the 2004 elections, as it was in 2000.

When Hurricane Charley slammed into Florida in mid-August 2004, battering the state with up to 100 mph winds that knocked over signs, uprooted trees, and left thousands of homes destroyed or uninhabitable, one billboard on Sand Lake Road in Orlando survived the onslaught relatively unscathed. The storm peeled off the most recent advertising message displayed on the board, however, revealing in its place an ad from an earlier campaign.


Now, if this message is for Governor Jeb Bush, or Katherine Harris, or Glenda Hood, the new chief elections officer, who seems to be a clone of Harris, I bet I know what the Lord wants to say.


Monday, September 13, 2004

BASEBALL: The Numbers Game

Today (oops, yesterday, given what time I am posting this) Barry Bonds hit home run number 699. Fifteen more, and he’ll tie Babe Ruth. In another season or so, if he anyone is willing to pitch to him, he could even tie or beat Hank Aaron, whose life total is 755. If they don’t pitch to him, at least he can keep up his record of walks, which stands this season at an astonishing 203. That’s just this season. He still managed to hit 41 homers.

One of my cherished early baseball memories is of Hank Aaron tying Babe Ruth’s home run record -- and then beating it. No, I wasn’t there, any more than I was on the moon when Neil Armstrong stepped off that ladder, memorably blowing his line. I saw them happen on TV.

In the game where Bonds reached #699, the Giants won handily, 5-2. The loss meant the Diamondbacks reached a milestone: triple digits in the loss column. With 19 games left on their schedule, they could match the Detroit Tigers’ impressive record of 119 lost in a season, highest in the American League. Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks are a National League team, which means they face much stiffer competition. They can’t match the fabled 1962 Mets, who lost 120 games, or the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, whose 134-20 record remains a shining example to the National League. The Snakes are 40.5 games back from the division lead, and their .301 winning percentage would be a respectable batting average.

Yes, I am gloating. I am a Phillies fan, dammit, and I have to take my Schadenfreude where I find it. Why? Because I am devoted to what many experts consider the most futile professional sports franchise extant. In their first 120 years (1883-2003), my boys lost 9,749 games -- an average of more than 81 games per season.

But losing isn’t the whole story. The Phillies have won at times. For example, they won a single World Series. One. Just one. The last of the original major-league franchises to do so. As a fourth-generation Phillies fan, I was pleased to see that my great-grandmother (who was born in 1890 and lived until the late 1980s), my grandfather, my mother, and I were all alive to rejoice in the 1980 victory. I’m now a great-aunt. Maybe by the time Jessica (age 3) is a grandma, we’ll have another World Series-winning team.

My West Coast team, the Oakland A’s (formerly of Philadelphia), is playing well enough this year to lead their division. Still, when you search for the AL team with the most losses, guess who shows up. In the 102 years of their existence, they have lost a respectable 8,187 games, which averages out to just over 80 games lost per season.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

POLITICS: A Walk in the Park

Read this and ask yourself what the United States will look like if we have four more years of Bush.

In an opinion article whose primary author was credited as Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York lauded himself on the results of "18 months of careful planning":

As the host of the Republican National Convention, New York City can take great pride in how it performed…. Most of the security aspects of the RNC played out the way we anticipated.

So nice to know it all went the way you'd planned.

From the conservative Washington Times, dateline August 27:

After the convention starts, those who misbehave could end up at Chelsea Pier 57 on the Hudson River, which has been converted into a temporary jail in case mayhem ensues.

So they had plenty of time to plan for multiple arrests, choose a safe venue, get in extra personnel to handle processing. And of course, this was all just in case of mayhem. Right?

From the not notably liberal Christian Science Monitor:

But many of those arrested are upset about the length of their detention in what they called a "grimy garage," as well as the number of innocent bystanders caught up in the police dragnet. "There were Chinese food delivery men, German tourists, people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," says Mike Epstein, an amateur photographer who was held for almost 30 hours before being charged with disorderly conduct.

Critics point out that police need probable cause to make an arrest. Some also think authorities should have obtained a warrant before using a net to subdue crowds. "If you're a peaceful protester holding up a sign that says the Republicans or the Democrats are leading us down the wrong path, you have a right to do that without being swept up," says Mr. Dershowitz. "There's something unseemly about using a net."

A friend of mine, a pre-med student, was in Manhattan during the convention. He wasn't a protester, but he reports that the cops were counting groups of people walking along. If there were 20 or more in a clump, the cops arrested them all, regardless of what they were doing or whether they were really together or simply in proximity. Given the usual density of people on the New York City sidewalks, it doesn't surprise me at all that a lot of innocent people were arrested. The size of a "crowd," however, does. Twenty people might pass for a crowd in my hometown, a rural crossroads. But in Manhattan, 20 people walking near one another is business as usual.

A Vietnam vet who was swept up in an arrest net says:
"Something happened here I thought would never happen," Arrington says. "You expect it in the former Soviet Union, or Saudi Arabia maybe. But New York City? It's like they took the Bill of Rights and threw it in the trash can. To be arrested for standing on a sidewalk for disorderly conduct? It's beyond ridiculous. It violates people's rights. I'd have never believed it if you told me this would happen in the middle of New York City."

Who actually was responsible for Pier 57?

My 21-year old daughter disappeared from NYC last Tuesday afternoon when walking with friends through a park where no protest was being held -- and was held prisoner -- without being charged -- by the NYPD for three days. The first day and night she spent in an unsafe and inhumane facility at Pier 57 ("Little Guantanamo") provided by the Republican Party.

Yes, it was managed by the Republican National Committee. It was leased by the RNC to hold political dissenters who disagreed with the Bush administration. The second two days, my daughter was in a city jail in Manhattan, where her treatment improved.

The notorious Pier 57 (owned by the Hudson River Trust--a city/state consortium) was dubbed "Little Guantanamo" by reporters who also got caught up in police sweeps and who said it looked like the Guantanamo Bay prison built by the USA to hold the Al Qaeda terrorist political prisoners in Cuba. Pier 57 was leased by the RNC before their convention. They arranged for the NYPD to put up the chain link holding pens with razor wire on top in the old Pier 57 warehouse that had oil, gas and asbestos dust on the floor from a previous fire. . . .

Warning signs that reporters saw posted around Pier 57 said not to enter without protective clothing and mask. My exhausted daughter, with hundreds of others, tried to sleep that first night ...on the chemical-covered oily, cold cement floor of these pens, without food or water, without being read her rights, without being offered a chance to post bail, without seeing a judge although the National Lawyers Guild offered to represent them pro bono, without being charged or told why she was arrested and handcuffed and taken there, without being allowed to make a call to a lawyer or friend or parent or anyone -- all cell phones were confiscated as "terrorist weapons." Her purse was taken. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Meanwhile...ordinary criminals arrested that same day in NYC for burglary, rape and heinous crimes were processed by the courts in less than 10 hours. My daughter, who had committed no crime, was incarcerated for three days incommunicado. . . .

I recall that when the Democrats held their convention to nominate Senator John Kerry as their candidate for President, there were only 6 people arrested, if I remember correctly. At the Republican National Convention to elect Bush as their candidate, there were thousands arrested. I suspect that Republicans might say this was a good thing. Being tough. This group-roundup tactic is called by the Republican party "preventative detention" (like the "pre-emptive war" in Iraq). It is used to terrorize those who might protest Bush's agenda when he is in town. America, wake up. Hitler told the German people that they would have to "give up a few of your rights that we can fight the enemy." That's what Ashcroft said, about the misnamed PATRIOT ACT. Wake up, America. The American flag that proudly waves by MY front gate and is on the back window of MY car...doesn't seem to be the same American flag that the Republican Party is waving."

Emphasis added.

From the NY Daily News:
The City Council got ready yesterday to turn a spotlight on controversial police tactics used to corral protesters during last week's Republican convention. . . . "From the health point of view, it's very questionable any court would have allowed use of a bus garage, even in an emergency," said City Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Governmental Operations Committee.

Well, it wasn't an emergency. Everything was carefully planned.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Because No Grown Woman Should Be Forced to Wear Pink

Having breast cancer is bad enough. Being inundated with a lot of tacky Mary Kay-tinted ribbons is adding insult to injury.

Some of us look better in terra cotta.

In honor of my friend Christa's mother, who was recently diagnosed. And for my mother and grandmother, and for Michele's wonderfully feisty mother -- all of whom are doing fine now.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Germ Theory of Government

In Plagues and Peoples, William H. McNeill demonstrates that societies suffer from (and learn to tolerate) both macro- and micro-parasites. The syphilis spirochete is a micro-parasite. Dick Cheney is a macro-parasite.

The government, elected or hereditary (or both, as in the Bush dynasty), is supposed to loot and pillage only in a polite and restrained manner, just enough to maintain the resources needed to fight off the impolite and unrestrained incursions of barbarian hordes, drought years, crop failures, and the other hazards of life.

In other words, they're supposed to be insurance. And what happens when your annual premiums cost more than the car is worth? You call Geico. Or you storm the Bastille, dismember the Princess de Lamballe, and guillotine the aristobastards

At crisis points, the parasites are doing more harm than good, or some external factor upsets a previously tolerable balance. This is also true of the various micro-parasites. Germs that rapidly kill their hosts are not successful in the long run

The Bush administration is using the well-worn historical tactic of creating or exploiting panic over an epidemic parasite (terrorists) in order to justify their far more destructive endemic parasitism. Moreover, they are increasing their parasitic demands while decreasing the protections and services offered to the host population. Universal health care, for example, is a highly desirable protection for the body politic. We'll never get that under the Bush administration.

A la lanterne Lysol!

Six times as many people die every year from lack of health insurance as died on September 11.

Some useful statistics:
Currently 43,000,000 Americans are uninsured, and lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths each year in the U.S. Eighty percent of the uninsured are members of working families -- but a quarter of U.S. workers are not offered health insurance at all, and few Americans can afford to buy the expensive individual policies.

On January 14 the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a Congressionally chartered but independent organization created in 1970 "to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health," released a report and fact sheets asking the president and Congress to act so that everyone living in the U.S. has health insurance by 2010.

Uninsured children and adults are sicker and die more often, as cancer and other diseases are diagnosed too late. Uninsured persons injured in an automobile accident get less services in hospitals and have a 37% higher death rate than those with health coverage. Lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the U.S. Currently, 43,000,000 Americans are uninsured.

The cost of the employee's share of health insurance increased 350% (in constant dollars) from 1977 to 1998, while the median income only increased 17%.

Four out of five uninsured Americans are members of working families. A quarter of U.S. workers are not offered health insurance at all by their employer. If they buy their own policy it usually costs much more than the same insurance purchased by a group, especially if they have a chronic health condition. If they do not have insurance and get sick, they usually have to pay much more for the same medical services, since insurance companies can negotiate discounts with doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and others.

Four out of five without health insurance in the U.S. are U.S. citizens -- although immigrants are more likely than others to be uninsured.

Of the 7.8 million uninsured children in the U.S. today, half are actually eligible for insurance under SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) or Medicaid. Often they are kept out by complex enrollment or re-enrollment procedures.

It would almost certainly cost less to provide insurance to everyone than to continue the current system. The cost of covering all the uninsured has been estimated as between 3% and 5.6% of total U.S. healthcare cost.

The U.S. spends more per person on health care than any other nation -- 14% of gross its domestic product -- but is 25th in male life expectancy and 19th in female life expectancy among 29 developed countries.

The report recommends five key principles for evaluating health insurance -- that it be universal, continuous, affordable to individuals and families, affordable and sustainable for society, and should "enhance health and well-being by promoting access to high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe, timely, patient-centered, and equitable." It does not recommend a particular reform strategy, but evaluates four of them, including single payer, on how well they meet these recommendations.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Note on the Republican National Convention

Family values in action--and a genuine measure of the GOP's respect for marriage:
"We have our special little wife section," said Jackie Tancredo, the outspoken spouse of
the outspoken Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). "It's called, unimportant people get to sit at the top."

Another Fabulous 404

I bet you thought I'd forgotten my collection of interesting "Page Not Found" notices.