Archive for February, 2013

Three Things That are Obsolete

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013


By Bob Gaydos

When, in the course of human events, certain things outlive their usefulness, it is important, perhaps even necessary, that society scrap them. Send them to the landfill or the museum. Say bon voyage, adios, good riddance. Thanks, but no thanks.

It strikes me that three things fall into that category today in America:

  • The penny: A penny for your thoughts? Really? This blog is free, but otherwise my thoughts are going to require three figures (no decimal points). It’s simple: The penny can’t buy anything today. It is a nuisance, forming colonies on dresser tops and deli counters. Merchants routinely round their prices to avoid it. And it costs 2.41 cents to mint every penny. That’s a hefty loss for a nation struggling with a debt ceiling.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced last year that the government would start using cheaper materials in pennies this year. What little copper was still there would likely disappear and there might be less zinc. He said this would save abut $75 million a year. Scrapping pennies altogether would save the government more than twice that amount and make life much more manageable for cashiers. (Nickels, by the way, are in the same category.) Rumor has it that some new pennies have arrived and they are, well, funky. Kind of light and not necessarily official looking.

I’m not sure who it is that still wants this money-losing money to be minted, There are surely plenty around to satisfy collectors. For comparison, Canada, which scrapped its penny Feb. 4, estimates there are 6 billion of them in circulation and it will take about four years for them to disappear now that minting has ceased. Merchants are rounding up or down until that time for cash customers. Sounds doable, eh?

  • Cursive writing: Or at least teaching cursive writing in elementary school. Before you traditionalists get your drawers in a knot, think about it. When was the last time you used true cursive, not some amalgam of printing and scribbling that was barely legible — by you? The days of “slide, slide and glide” (capital I, remember?) have been replaced by txtng. In electronic communications, neatness is automatic. It’s spelling  that suffers. Kids hate learning cursive. Teachers probably would rather be teaching writing well, not neatly.

There will always be people who will be able to write cursively, just as there are talented folks who can do calligraphy. But I have gone from cursive to manual typewriter, to electric typewriter, to laptop and smart phone. Each change made writing more efficient, which is the key. And think of the poor guy leaving memos on cave walls. What he would have done for papyrus and a pen?

Cursive is no longer required as part of the Common Core State Standards, but states have been slow to drop it. Hawaii, Indiana and Kansas have. New York leaves it up to the school district to make the decision. Folks, if your district teaches it, ask them to stop. You’d be better off learning about LOL than teaching your kids to write a capital Z.

  • The Republican Party: Talk about obsolete. The 21st century version of the party of Lincoln has been hijacked by haters, nay-sayers, evangelists, wealthy bullies and Flat Earthers. Anything, anyone, any idea that does not fit their narrow view of life is automatically a threat and subject to loud assault, not debate. It has no interest in working with others to better life for all Americans. It has no interest, in fact, in working with anyone who disagrees with its views.

In the last presidential election, women, Latinos, African Americans, gays and young people favored the Democrat, Barack Obama. The whiz kids of the Grand Old Party are now trying to figure out how to buy those votes or change people’s minds. Few Republicans talk abut changing the party’s stances on some issues, such as immigration, abortion or gay marriage. Those who do are subjected to attack, ridicule and phony allegations. In fact, facts have little currency in the current GOP.

The best thing would be for the Republicans with a brain, a heart and a sense of obligation to actual governing (I know they’re out there) to form a new party. Leave Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, the Koch brothers and the Tea Partiers the ruins of the day. We don’t need them anymore.

I Lose Weight; They Lose Respect

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

This week I discovered that the woman who I believe saved my life – she pooh-poohs such talk – might be earning slightly less than the people who flip burgers at McDonald’s. How could that be?

She’s a meeting leader for Weight Watchers, which I joined around Christmas of 2006 when I felt lousy, looked awful and was dangerously overweight. My idea of physical activity was a walk from the newsroom to the cafeteria for coffee and a cheese Danish. (That was my early morning break; others would follow through the day.) Walking up the 14 steps to the second floor of my house left me panting. I thought the world was always watching and judging me but now I think I was actually invisible. Once, an editor put me in touch with a woman he knew in Colorado who lost a lot of weight. We talked and I promptly forgot everything she said.

Eventually, and after arthroscopic surgery to fix a knee injured by excess weight and after another scary look in full-length mirror, I got to a Weight Watchers meeting. I filled out some paperwork, but was not optimistic; I had done things like this before. I got on the scale, which showed a number that I thought had been reserved for certain stories in Ripley’s Believe it or Not or certain attractions at Ringling Bros.

I changed, due in large part to a great meeting leader who, like all WW leaders, lost a lot of weight before being hired. Now, I go to a Weight Watchers meeting every Tuesday. I go to the gym five days a week. I feel like a different person; I guess I am. I bought jeans for the first time in 25 years. I still have a way to go. The program works.

I’ve dropped 110 pounds, but this is no advertisement for Weight Watchers.

This is a testament to two great women who led the meetings I attended, and it’s also challenge to Weight Watchers to start treating their people better. The Times story reports widespread unhappiness among meeting leaders over low pay and other money issues. True to their calling, I should make clear that no Weight Watchers employee ever uttered a word of criticism to me.

That first Weight Watchers leader offered a hand to shake at meetings. She was straightforward about her own weight loss of 55 pounds and the fact that she had kept it off for 11 years. She was enthusiastic. She listened well. She made you believe in yourself. She always offered encouragement that didn’t sound like a rehearsed company line. She knew what we were going through. She had been there and succeeded; now she wanted us to join her. She assured us it was possible. She showed us her “before” picture.

You? I asked. It was her. I was a believer.

Sometimes, if I missed a meeting I’d get an email or a postcard from that first leader saying, as she always said at meetings, that she cared about her members and that she was available for talks and for help in problem times. Was something not working, she would ask, we can fix it. Was I bored with the program? We could fix that as well because, after all is said and done, the program works and, in Weight Watcher talk, no food tastes as good as thin looks.

She has since moved out of state, succeeded by a leader with boundless energy and a great sense of humor, another person whose “before” picture looks like someone else.

The Times story suggests that there’s a dark side to the Weight Watchers Empire, and that as much as its members admire their meeting leaders, WW Central seems to hold them in far less esteem.

I pay $13 a week dues, and it galls me to know precisely how little gets to the meeting leaders. Their base pay is $18 a meeting (higher for better attended meetings). The last time leaders got a raise was more than 10 years ago. I don’t like this but I will continue to go to the meetings, which have – along with my first leader – saved my life. As a friend says, $13 a week to talk and listen and even to get a few interesting recipes is far less than the cost of cardiac surgery.

Additionally, if a leader is interested in making money that even approaches a decent wage, she (most are women) would have to run several meetings a week. But Weight Watchers offers a daily mileage reimbursement only after a leader travels the first 40 miles.

Moreover, a leader in Texas told The Times that Weight Watchers allows two and a half hours per meeting but that more is needed. The time includes setting up a meeting space, weighing members, conducting the meeting itself, cleaning up, selling Weight Watchers products, and doing other chores. The Texas leader said this easily takes three hours.

Unhappy leaders also told of their irritation over being paid a pittance while Weight Watchers spends big bucks to hire people like Jennifer Hudson and Jessica Simpson to pitch the program in its advertising.

David Kirchhoff, the CEO, got just under $3 million in 2011. Faced with joyless meeting leaders, he recently told them that two priorities at Weight Watchers are to “improve your working life” and to improve “the way we reward you for the incredible work you do.”

Of course, he also said pay changes are complicated and would “require careful consideration,” The Times reported.

If employee satisfaction is important to WW, it should understand and accept the old maxim that money talks. As someone who has benefitted greatly I urge Weight Watchers to make that money talk soon.

Especially now, after 10 years.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 2/25/2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Red. Donation to the shelter in Onley, VA

Where the HECK have I been?

After a daunting trip to Florida, I traveled to Hartford, CT, and participated as a vendor at the King’s Foot Guard Dog Show – and had a great time. I got one big commission – and an abstract one at that (check out Roy and Bert to see what I mean), which makes me so happy.

I love painting these, the abstracts, but making them is terrifying. There can be no mistakes, none. You put a mark on the canvas, and there it stands, naked, without coverup or background. No changing your mind! No second guessing!

So much like the very best moments in life, yes? Those moments when you have the courage to jump, the strength not to look back, the serenity not to question yourself.


Followers of my blog, The Accidental Artist, will remember the Art for Shelter Animals Project, which I started years ago with my friend Shiela Tajima. ASAP has languished for well more than a year now, as I got too busy with Patch and with life to give it the attention it deserves.

It’s time to start it up again, and I’d like to invite any and all of you who make art to consider joining me in relaunching the project.

Here’s how it works. You make a portrait of an animal in your local shelter or with a local rescue group, you send me a jpg of the portrait, and then you give it to the shelter or rescue group. They can do whatever they want with it. Anything. Once you give it, the piece is theirs. The more creative the shelter, the more uses they will find.

And more than anything, the shelter will be grateful. They’ll be thrilled to have the painting and happy for the attention.

It was making paintings for ASAP that liberated me in terms of using colors, and using the palette knife, really. The shelters are so happy to have the pieces that there is No Pressure At All. Making these portraits showed me that dogs can be painted in shades of green and purple and still be recognized.

Please join me! Make a portrait of an animal in your local shelter, or with your local rescue group, and donate it. Send me a jpg before you give the piece away, though! You can go to the shelter and take photos, or do what I do and use

This is a great way to help your community, to help some dogs and cats and rabbits and whatever else is in your shelter, and to do it without involving money. If you teach art classes, it’s a great topic for an art class, too!

Thank you for considering it!

I leave in about 10 days for my Arizona journey, To Tubac and Back. This is going to be such a fun trip, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is I get to visit my dad and his wife in their beautiful home in Tubac, an hour or so south of Tucson.

I’m in a show in Tucson, and have found out that an old friend of mine lives there, so that’s an extra added bonus!

Also, I am going to drive out through Mississippi and Alabama, places I’ve never been, and am so excited to see – and paint.

‘Boehnerquester,’ Not ‘Obamaquester’!

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor pose with members of Congress and 'Obamaquester' props, 10 days before the sequester is scheduled by law to be automatically triggered.

By Emily Theroux

The Wall Street Journal called him “President Armageddon.”

Early in the final fortnight of the Great Sequestration Debate, President Obama compared a frightening cascade of looming federal spending cuts to taking a “meat cleaver approach” to our fragile economic recovery.

Unless an unlikely compromise between Democrats and Republicans can be reached, the first round of a decade’s worth of automatic, across-the-board reductions will kick in on March 1, whacking an immediate $85 billion from military and domestic budgets alike. Countless jobs will be lost, Obama warned, and many more public-sector employees can expect reduced hours or extended furloughs (including teachers, first responders, air traffic controllers, and FBI agents).

But unlike the sojourns of their elected representatives, who just embarked on yet another paid leave, these government “vacations” won’t be taxpayer-funded.

Brutal,” as the president described it, doesn’t fully capture the coming desperation, once funding has been curtailed for everything from submarine deployments to military health care coverage; from nuclear weapons security and foreign aid to FDA meat, poultry, and dairy inspections; from the Head Start program and immunization programs to food assistance for impoverished children.

* * *

For weeks now, House Speaker John Boehner has blithely called the cruel, indiscriminate cutback plan “the Obamaquester.” The Republican talking point has become a Twitter hashtag wildly popular on the right. Liberals have their own terms for it, many of them unprintable. Some call it “the axe”; I call it “the guillotine.” A particularly creative response to Boehner’s taunt — Sequestageddon™ — was posted last night on Twitter by a freelance writer and self-avowed “political junkie” who tweets as @DAbitty.

Like the Debt Ceiling Debacle and the Fiscal Cliff Fiasco before it, the Sequester Stalemate is abstract and unfathomable to many Americans who don’t pay much attention to the “meat-grinding” of the legislative process. What makes these partisan showdowns all the more toxic is the way Boehner, McConnell, and other GOP leaders evade liability — for both plutocratic policy goals and relentless obstruction — by using convoluted language, trafficking in logical fallacies, and fomenting deliberate lies about their opponents.

Ironically, the sequester was intended to be so dire a threat that neither side would consider actually letting it happen. Yet here we stand on the brink of economic disaster with no hint of a compromise in sight, and all the obdurate Republicans will do is try their damnedest to make sure the blame falls squarely on President Obama’s shoulders.

While reporters from The New York Times, The Hill, and other mainstream publications reproach both political parties for the impasse, the GOP has staunchly refused to counterbalance the sequester’s spending cuts with revenue increases. Emboldened by Bob Woodward’s book The Price of Politics, Republicans almost universally ascribe the resulting gridlock to Obama. (Woodward credited then-Chief-of-Staff Jack Lew with initially proposing the sheer lunacy of including mandatory sequestration in the 2011 debt deal.)’s Dave Weigel, who called the question of which side really dreamed up the sequester “the dumbest debate in Washington,” slyly noted Woodward’s version as the one Republicans “prefer to cite” (while they omit another Woodward observation: the sequester’s package of spending cuts with no tax hikes was what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “demanded”).

* * *

A slide from the final page of Speaker John Boehner's PowerPoint to House Republicans on July 31, 2011, obtained by The Daily Beast.

Boehner’s malevolently quixotic “Obamaquest” (to pin the tail on the Dems’ donkey for any fallout from another GOP stab at tanking the economy) may yet crash and burn. Yesterday, a 2011 email surfaced that included a PowerPoint presentation developed by the House speaker’s office and the Republican Policy Committee. Created to persuade Tea Party House members to support a debt-ceiling deal, the presentation clearly shows that Boehner viewed “automatic across-the-board cuts” (sequestration) as “a ‘cudgel’ to guarantee a reduction in federal spending — the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations,” in the words of John Avlon, whose reporting for The Daily Beast turned up the smoking (digital) gun.

The GOP’s goal was to neutralize the $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase, by “(ensuring) that any debt limit increase is met with greater spending cuts – IF Joint Committee fails to achieve at least $1.2T in deficit reduction,” the slide pictured above clearly reads.

But Avlon copped out at the last minute and, like his mainstream media colleagues, fell back on the false equivalency of blaming both parties equally for failing to “work together” on what he assumed to be a shared goal. “And now, faced with the pain that both parties voted for but nobody wants, they’re busy pointing fingers and trying to assign political blame,” he concluded.

The only reason we’re stalled in the current blind alley is the GOP’s obstinacy over approving any revenue increase that involves raising taxes or eliminating corporate loopholes – without a binding agreement with Democrats that the resulting revenues will be used to pay down the debt.

The Party of No (no taxes, no regulations, no cuts to corporate welfare, no compromise, no veracity, no accountability) has morphed into the Party of Nobody Here But Us Chickenhawks — willing, as they’ve always been over risking the lives of young Americans in opportunistic wars, to play chicken with the national economy. In their quest to impede Obama at every turn, they’re not above gambling with hundreds of thousands of jobs, hamstringing current military operations, and taking food from the mouths of hungry children if doing so will prevent a single gazillionaire from paying a dime more in federal income tax.

The Republican Party has turned even the most routine votes on fiscal policy into pitched battles that neither party wins in the end. As a result of this calculated political grandstanding, the American people come in dead last virtually every time the GOP stands in unison to block Barack Obama.

The GOP Comes Up Dry on Candidates

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio ... reaching for the unattainable?

By Bob Gaydos

When last we saw the Republican Party, they were plunging, lemming-like, over the cliff of national debt and letting President Barack Obama snooker them into approving what they describe as tax increases on their most favorite of all kinds of Americans — the really, really rich ones.

Since then, the survivors of the GOP cliff dive have continued to display their self-destructive instincts in ways both ridiculous and sublime. The most recent example falls into both categories. That would be Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s dry-mouthed, Saturday Night Live-like response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Hold on! you say. Rubio’s whole response wasn’t a joke, it was just the beginning that was comical. Fair enough, I reply, but do you remember anything about the speech other than Rubio’s farcical stretch for an off-camera water bottle while keeping his eyes trained straight ahead at the camera? I sure don’t. And it’s doubtful most Americans do, what with the incident being ridiculed all over TV by the likes of Jon Stewart, David Letterman and, indeed, Saturday Night Live itself.

Fair or unfair, a fact of life in politics today is that image shapes discussion. Perception becomes reality. So when the supposed Great Latino Hope of the Pretty Much Whites Only Republican Party — one of the few Republicans who sincerely wants an immigration reform bill because it’s the right thing to do rather than it being the correct political thing to do — comes off in his debut as potential presidential contender as so nervous he desperately needs a drink of water barely a minute into his TV address, well, people are bound to wonder.

Is this the best the GOP can do? Can a guy who gets choked up so fast reading a speech on TV be counted on to handle really tense situations, such as routinely confront the president of the United States? When Rubio took his swig of Poland Spring, why didn’t he at least have the presence of mind to simply set the bottle down calmly and move on, rather than stretching comically again to replace it off camera? Did he think no one could see him? How people respond, even in the seemingly most mundane of circumstances, can be telling. Rubio’s response tells me that he’s not quite ready for prime time. The good news for him is that he’s got a couple of years to work on it.

As it was, commentators noted that at least Rubio’s actual eventual speech was a lot better than the State of the Union reply delivered last year for the GOP by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another minority voice who was billed then as the great southern conservative hope of the GOP. If Rubio was Plastic Man, Jindal proved to be Mr. Freeze, one of Batman’s nemeses. Jindal’s wooden delivery dropped him back in the pack among potential GOP presidential contenders, which may explain why he recently called out his fellow Republicans, saying they had to “stop being the stupid party.”

Now, them’s fighting words and, had he been a member of almost any other political party, they would have surely gotten some kind of respectful response: “Gee, do you think Gov. Jindal’s got a point? Maybe we should talk about it. Should we shun candidates with ridiculous, simplistic views on issues? Should we care about more than the rich? Would that get more of us elected?”

But stupid is as stupid does. And so, Karl Rove, the chief architect of last year’s disastrous GOP campaign, has decided to double down on his spend-as-much-as-necessary-to-defeat-Democrats policy by creating a super-PAC to knock off fringy candidates who might win a GOP primary, but would lose in a general election, as happened last year. Some might view that scenario and decide it was time for the party to reach out to a broader spectrum of voters, to establish a base more in line with the majority of Americans rather than with candidates who appeal to certain special interest groups.

Not Rove. His Conservative Victory Project is intended to bankroll already established GOP faithful with fistfuls of money so that they win the primaries. These would be, of course, candidates acceptable to Rove, which does not mean a majority of Americans would also like them.

Newt Gingrich, who has been both mainstream and fringy GOP candidate, is kind of going both ways this time. Having been buried by super-PAC money last year when he was rising in GOP presidential primaries, he calls Rove’s plan a form of political bossism, where the folks with the money pick the candidates. It’s destined to fail, Gingrich says, and the figures on Rove’s success in the last election bear this out. Rove’s big-money philosophy bought little last year, one estimate being he had a success rate of 1 percent on $103 million spent on PAC attack ads.

But Gingrich further says the GOP needs to reach out to a broader base of Americans — Latinos, blacks, women, Asians, young voters — to compete successfully with Democrats. Other Republicans have also criticized Rove’s new PAC, but the former top aide to President George W. Bush still has an influential voice among Republicans, last year‘s stunning failures notwithstanding.

What is striking and depressing in all this internal GOP fighting is that they so seldom talk about actually creating a better country through new, more enlightened policies, but simply about beating the Democrats by reaching out to groups who vote Democratic, whatever that means.

Maybe there’s a Republican who wants to run for president who thinks his or her party needs to review and actually change some standard GOP policies — on abortion, gay marriage, gun control, health care, education, immigration, a living wage, bank regulation, taxes, etc. — as a way to attract some of those voters who don’t pull the GOP levers. A candidate who can also deliver a major speech in a way that inspires confidence, not ridicule. So far, that person has yet to appear.

Musings on Musial

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

Gerald Eskenazi described the stance perfectly in the Wall Street Journal. “When Stan Musial stepped into the batter’s box, he was unforgettable: He stood at the plate using a peculiar, corkscrewed stance, untwisting as the ball approached, rifling singles, doubles, triples and home runs in numbers few others ever reached. When this most amiable of men held a bat, he reeked of danger.”

When I was a kid I often tried copying Musial’s unique batting stance. Let’s just say I did not reek of danger. I fared somewhat better when copying the stance of my hero, Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers. So what was a kid who rooted for the Dodgers doing copying Musial’s batting stance in the first place? Musial, who died last month at 92, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Yes, he was St. Louis’s own—there are two statues of him at their ballpark—and he brought fame to his coal-country birthplace in Donora, Pa.,” wrote Eskenazi. “It was in Brooklyn, though, where he was tagged by fans as ‘the Man’ in honor of the way he regularly demolished the Dodgers. How many visiting ballplayers are regarded as a beloved foe?”   Eskenazi noted a certain irony in Musial’s appeal to Dodger fans, known for being emotional and rowdy.  “He was not flashy, or big or particularly fast. He greeted fans at the park with a low-keyed ‘Whattayasay, whattayasay.’” Unless my mind is playing tricks on me that is exactly what he said when he gave me his autograph on Stan Musial Day at the Polo Grounds in 1962. I think he homered in that game too. Musial was 41 at the time but he did the same thing to the Mets that he used to do to the Dodgers. The only difference was that most hitters on the opposing teams also clobbered Mets pitching that first season. (That year the Mets hitters also made most of the opposing pitchers look like Sandy Koufax.) Musial finished the 1962 season with a batting average of .330. He hit so well against the Mets he even decided not to retire for another year.

In 1964 I went with a group of friends to see the Mayor’s Trophy Game—a pre-season exhibition game between the Mets and New York Yankees—at the new Shea Stadium. But the start was delayed by rain and the game was canceled. Just as we left the ballpark to head for the subway a door opened and the entire Yankee team came out and began walking toward a team bus parked nearby. We stopped in our tracks and joined other Mets fans in booing. My friend Mike Saperstein looked Mickey Mantle in the eye and said, “You couldn’t tie Stan Musial’s shoelaces!” Mantle’s jaw dropped and we all laughed and slapped palms with Sap, as he was known to us all except one knucklehead who shall remain nameless who insisted on calling him Max. When finally asked why, he said, “Isn’t his name Max? Max Applestein.” (Ironically, both Mantle and Musial outlived Sap.)

I had no friends who were Yankee fans. Before the Mets came to town we had all rooted for the Dodgers or New York Giants, fierce rivals in the National League. But when it came to the Yankees, we had a united front that even Georgi Dimitrov would have envied. Only later did I come to appreciate Mantle for the great player he was.

But there was no one quite like Stan the Man.

Michael can be reached at


In Need of a Fix

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

There are times when it’s best to just shut up and do the right thing. Correct a mistake. Make explicit that which is vague. Banish doubt and misunderstanding. Such a time is now and at issue is some extraordinary license taken in the making of the movie “Lincoln.”

Truth in Journalism: I had not been aware of the inaccuracies in this movie until I read Maureen Dowd’s column in last Sunday’s Times.

By now, you probably know the story. Tony Kushner spent seven years writing the Lincoln screenplay, which focuses on the politics in the House of Representatives during debate and voting on passage of the 13th Amendment, the 43-word declaration that slavery was now and forever banned in the United States.

The movie depicts the two Connecticut members of the House voting against the proposed amendment when, in fact, they voted for it. To further confuse matters, just about all characters in the movie are identified by their real names – Lincoln, Seward, Grant, Stanton, et al. – but the two men from Connecticut are assigned pseudonyms.

You can’t libel the dead, but this portrayal of the vote comes close. At best it’s a mistake that needs correcting. At worst, it’s history turned on its head in the name of dramatic license. In any case, it needs fixing.

Dowd reported in her Sunday piece that Kushner was outraged – her word – at the attention three-term Representative Joe Courtney, D-Conn had been receiving after he blew the whistle on the movie’s inaccuracies.

Dowd quoted Kushner as saying that in a movie, it’s all right to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth.”

Kushner goes on to lamely compare his mistaken history of voting on the proposed 13th Amendment with the absurd – and unasked – question of whether Abraham Lincoln wore blue socks or green. Then Kushner declares the matter “ridiculous.”

Socks and the end of slavery. A small detail? A valid comparison?

This is where Kushner stepped over the line. For, Augustus Brandegee and James Edward English were not insignificant back benchers with little to say.

“[Brandegee] zealously supported the anti-slavery movement when its supporters met contumely and contempt,” the Connecticut State Library said. “He rendered signal service to [the] cause of the Union and to the building up of the Nation after the Civil War…. His state counts him among her illustrious sons. His country is the better for his life.”

“He [Brandegee] was a knightly man – hypocrisy, shame, expedients, pretensions – the whole brood of lies and deceits – were his enemies. He fought them all his days and when the end came, passed over God’s threshold with escutcheon unstained and with plume untarnished,” said “A Modern History of New London County, Conn.”

English’s thoughts about slavery were more complicated, according to “A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven Counties” (1918).

“While as a democrat [sic] he fully recognized the constitutional right of the southern states to the possession of their slaves, he also felt that slavery was a monstrous injustice,” the New Haven County history observed.

That mighty sound like the opening words of a cop-out, but it was no such thing. “Long before the close of the [Civil War] it became evident to all thoughtful observers that the question of general emancipation must be met sooner or later, and Mr. English made up his mind to take the hazard and incur the odium of voting with his political opponents whenever, in his view, it became a political necessity,” the New Haven history continued.

Courtney has called on Steven Spielberg, the director of “Lincoln” to make corrections when the film is released on DVD, but Kushner opposes this because, he told Dowd, he thinks the question of his accuracy is a “made-up issue.”

Maybe, but for Kushner, now’s not the time to worry about a “made-up” issue. Now’s the time to make things right.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 02/14/13

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Storm in the Black Dirt

By Carrie Jacobson

I’ve had a couple bad experiences in Florida, and so, for now, for the foreseeable future, I am staying away.

And I had been so hopeful! This most recent show was a fine art show, put on by the Boca Raton Museum of Art. I was honored to get in, and as I walked the show Saturday morning (or in my case, limped the show), I was thrilled by the quality of the art – and how well my stuff measured up.

That moment of happiness feels like it warmed me a lifetime ago.

For me, and everyone near me, the rest of the show was awful. No one in my general vicinity had anything amounting to good sales. And the people who came to the show looked like they were so unhappy to be there! If there is one thing I know, it’s that unhappy people don’t buy art.

So I am writing Florida off – almost. On my way home, I stopped to see a friend from The Record. She has all sorts of ties and memories to the Black Dirt Region, and bought this painting, one of my all-time favorites, and saved Florida from being a total loss for me.

This weekend, I am pushing myself hard to try something new: a dog show! I’m going to unpack my van, gather all my dog paintings, repack the van and head to Connecticut. The show is at the XL Center in Hartford, and is on Saturday and Sunday, if you’re in the area. It should be fun!

The Pope Resigns! Uh, No Big Deal

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI .. stepping down

By Bob Gaydos

Kings and popes don’t resign.

Except when they do.

In the case of popes, that’s every 600 years or so, it turns out. Pope Benedict XVI proved to be the exception to the socially accepted truism about kings and popes when he announced his retirement Monday, stunning a billion-plus Catholics worldwide.

Benedict, who is 85, is one of but a handful of the 265 recognized popes to resign and the first pope since Gregory XII in 1615 to do so.

Gregory faced a serious challenge to his power, since three other popes had also been elected by different factions of the church. Benedict faces no such challenge. Indeed, if anything, in his eight years in the papal chair he has created a collegiality of doctrinaire conservatism among the cardinals he has appointed and who will select a successor from their midst.

The point being, if the accepted wisdom proves to be correct and a conservative European cardinal is elected pope, nothing will change in the Roman Catholic Church. That could be a serious problem for an institution that has adamantly resisted adapting to the modern world and which is losing parishioners and financial support at a troublesome rate and is seeing ever-declining numbers of men entering the priesthood.

Benedict cited his declining health as the reason for his resignation, saying he felt he could no longer properly handle the demands of the position. He wasn’t talking about saying Mass or issuing decrees. The Church has been rocked by a series of scandals and challenges from within and Benedict himself has been central in some of them. That might lead a skeptic to wonder if his leaving for health reasons is the equivalent of an American politician stepping down to “spend more time with my family.”

Pass the grain of salt, please.

Next month, all cardinals under the age of 80 will meet to select their new leader. Whoever it turns out to be will have to deal with these major issues Benedict leaves behind:

  • The sex scandal. Most of the sexual abuse of young boys by priests apparently happened on his predecessor’s watch, but Benedict has been implicitly connected with the church-wide coverup of the abuses. To this day, revelations and lawsuits plague the Church and some leaders still try to avoid taking responsibility for their part in the scandal. No whitewash will cover the stain. Only full revelation and penance.
  • No place for women. This is beyond comprehension. That a bunch of old men don’t want to relinquish any power at all to women, refuse to accept women priests, to allow altar girls, to, in fact, deny women of any meaningful say in the celebration of their religion or how it is interpreted is, in my view, sinful. American nuns have tried to force the Vatican’s hand in this regard, so far to no success other than not having been punished for their uppitiness. The new pope will have some very curious nuns — and women parishioners — to deal with.
  • Contraception. The Church refuses to accept it even though 90 percent (or more) of Catholics practice it. Benedict himself infamously worsened the situation by going to Africa and urging residents of AIDS-plaqued countries to shun condoms. Doctrine over common sense and, some might say, humanity. Surely, none of the original fathers of the church could have foreseen such a situation in writing the Gospels. The fact that acceptance of contraception in general would significantly reduce the need for abortions, an outcome people of all faiths desire, has not persuaded the Vatican either.
  • Homosexuality/gay marriage. If the church chose to ignore the pedophiles in its midst, it has not been silent on homosexuals — who represent no threat at all to it. They are unacceptable.
  • Divorce, married priests. The one would make life for thousands of Catholics more livable, the other would swell the ranks of new priests immediately. Don‘t bet on either.

There are other issues, such as how to meet the needs of a church whose members are increasingly from the southern hemisphere when the majority of the cardinals are still from Europe and endorse Benedict‘s conservative philosophy, and when much of the non-Catholic world views the Church as hopelessly behind the times. It all points to the likelihood that, while the resignation of a pope might seem like a momentous decision historically, in the real scheme of things this one might be no big deal. That could be the saddest outcome of all.


The Scouts Need to be Brave

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The Boy Scout pledge requires its adherents to obey the Scout Law. The Scout Law dictates that they will be all of these: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

I tried, but one summer at Ten Mile River Scout Camp in Sullivan County I stood on the dock of Crystal Lake trying to work up the nerve to jump into water over my head. I couldn’t do it. I was a lousy swimmer and deep water terrified me. For this, I was unceremoniously booted out of a prestigious senior unit by staff and friends. It was one of the more humiliating moments of my boyhood. They said I was not brave.

I may have run afoul of the bravery law when I was 12 years old, but I did far better than the adults who control the scout show now. When it comes to the question of letting gay boys be Boy Scouts, they are not loyal, not helpful, not friendly, not kind, and, God knows, not brave. In fact, in continuing to refuse to allow gay boys to join and serve, and gay adults to lead, the Boy Scouts of America define gutlessness.

Not to mention a world view right out of the Dark Ages, one that rejects the idea that a gay kid could be interested in learning to tie a square knot, applying a bandage, going on a hike, earning a merit badge in environmental science or public speaking, and maybe becoming an Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts of America – chartered by the Congress that represents us all – have had 103 years to do something about their anti-gay bias but have spent the 20th century ignoring the matter. It is now the 21st century, and they can’t disregard it any longer.

Will the organization change? Or will it maintain its cruel justification for banning gay kids by referring critics to another part of the Scout Pledge, which requires a boy to swear he will be “morally straight.”

As if to suggest that sexual orientation is a moral issue, when it is no such thing.

And as if to suggest that regulations cannot be amended. Of course the scouts should maintain trustworthiness, cheerfulness and the other 10 laws, but should add such traits as generosity and fairness.

Recently, when word got out that the matter of gay members was under discussion at the executive levels of the organization, the Scouts punked out and announced that they need another three months to conclude discussions on their membership requirements. Three months more after 103 years. This is no demonstration of bravery or of friendliness. In fact it would be comical if the victims of the Scouts’ 10th century ignorance were not children.

Surely the Boy Scouts of America understand that no matter how they decide, they will be attacked. End the ban and they alienate people who believe it’s still 1953, that the earth is a happy straight world where Ike is president, where the sky is always blue, and where all is well except for those nasty Russians.

If they maintain the ban the Scouts continue to incur the enmity of people who understand that the Scout Law ought not be a means of exclusion.

Now’s the time for the Scouts to be brave.

They might even consider expanding the law so that scouts would be required to be open-minded, respectful, honest, thoughtful, compassionate, and fair in addition to trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc.