Saturday, January 31, 2009

Niceville Senator Disses College President

Earlier today we lamented that no one was demanding the resignation of Okaloosa County's "state college" president Bob Richburg. After all, he's surely as central to the grand jury probe of criminal wrong-doing as (former) Speaker of the House Ray Sansom.

Turns out, there is at least one person who is now suggesting that very thing: self-described Sansom "friend" Don Gaetz, a Republican state senator from Niceville.

The weekly Santa Rosa Press-Gazette in Milton reported today that Gaetz has issued a written statement more or less saying that Sansom had no choice except to step down as Speaker of the House while the grand jury investigates him. And, Gaetz added, Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg also "should 'face consequences' for his role in the botched hiring."

Not only did Gaetz diss Richburg, his remarks in a subsequent interview sound very much as if he might be trying to shift the blame to Richburg for the whole thing:
"I did not know that Ray was going to go to work for Bob Richburg or that it was going to be handled the way it was. Had I known it and had I been asked for advice from my good friend Ray, I would have warned him off."
"Warned him off?" Put aside the fact that Sansom really wasn't going to work for "Bob Richburg;" he was finagling a job from Richburg to work for the public. But is there a whiff of coolness -- maybe even disapproval -- in senator Gaetz' remarks about "Bob Richburg"?

It certainly sounds like that to us. Just as cool, in fact, as senator Gaetz' remarks last month to the Northwest Florida Daily News when he said -- rather crossly we thought -- that Richburg had never invited him "to a meeting of the Northwest Florida State College board of directors in my life."

Gaetz was, of course, referring to the college trustees "public" meeting arranged to take place in Tallahassee, as Richburg wrote in an email from Ft. Walton, because it was "the only way we can do it in privacy but with a public notice here."

Could the state senator be sending a signal to his "friend" Sansom? If he is, might that signal be, 'Better that you become witness for the prosecution than the other guy?'

Witness for the Prosecution

Ray Samson has said in a written statement that his "ongoing legal proceedings have temporarily created an inability for me to carry out my responsibilities as Speaker." What, then, are we to conclude about Bob Richburg, president of the Okaloosa-Walton Community College ... Oh, so sorry; we mean... Northwest Florida State College?

As Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel observes, the known -- indeed, the undisputed facts -- are that Sansom--
1) helped funnel millions of dollars to a small college; and
2) The college then offered him a $110,000-a-year paycheck.
And that doesn't even allude to the mysterious $6 million college airplane hangar and the top-secret "legislative briefing" that wasn't. Nevertheless, Maxwell says, "That's why he had to give up his speakership -- and why he needs to give up any delusions of returning to the post."

Richburg is a state employee, too. While an academic may not be as politically powerful as a Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, a state-paid college president is in charge of molding a lot of young minds and educating them to become better informed citizens of Florida.

No one else is asking, so we will: How easily can Richburg faithfully discharge his public duties when, as it appears, he was so deeply enmeshed on the other side of the same questionable transactions that have driven Sansom from the Speaker's chair?

If, as we know, a grand jury is investigating Sansom, isn't it inescapable that Richburg also must be facing possible criminal indictment? After all, it takes two to dance the bribery tango.

Richburg has a dilemma nearly identical to Sansom's. Both men are in charge of guiding important state institutions through parlous economic times. Both hold public positions that impose a high duty of loyalty to the public good.

The only difference is one of scale. Sansom as Speaker was expected to provide ethical and policy guidance to 119 other state representatives. Richburg to thousands of the next generation of Florida citizenry.

If Sansom can be compelledto give up the Speaker's job, shouldn't Richburg? Unless, of course, he's hoping for some sort of deal to save his own skin. For example, by becoming a witness for the prosecution.

Google Search Hacked


We're no techie, but it looks to us as if the Google search function has been hacked today, January 31, 2009. Some time after 8:00 am CST Saturday morning, anyone going to and searching for any subject was met with the usual list of web sites, with two differences.

First, every listing included the warning, "This site may harm your computer." Here's a screen shot we got when we searched for "google search january 31, 2009."

Second, every effort to click on any link Google Search provides brought up a redirect page that read, "Warning - Visiting this site may harm your computer!" Her's another screen shot:

The hack presented no danger to an individual user's computers. Nor did it interrupt in any way direct access to any web site, for example by using your browser's bookmarks.

Even as we write this, signs are showing up that Google engineers are on top of things. We expect to return to our regular programming soon.

1-31 noon

Google wasn't hacked, according to Google, it was the victim of "human error." Click here for the official explanation.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ocala National Bank

Sansom Quits as House Speaker

Facing a grand jury investigation and a state ethics probe, embattled Speaker of the Florida House Ray Sansom (R-Destin) has stepped down, the Miami Herald is reporting.

Time will tell how much of this is owing to pressure from fellow House members and how much is because Sansom has word of worse news to come.

Wacko Pensacola

Travis Griggs writes in today's Pensacola News Jumble that the U.S. Justice Department will be investigating the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and Jail for "use of excessive force" and failure to provide "adequate medical care, mental health care, protection from violence and sanitation conditions." Three arrestees, including a guy who claimed to be Jesus, died 'mysteriously' in recent years after being shocked with taser guns by deputies.

Quote of the day goes to newly elected sheriff David Morgan:
Morgan said a "lack of oversight" by the previous administration may have caused a lack of "training for our officers to recognize and identify mental illnesses."
Only in Pensacola could a cop not figure out that a suspect who claims he is Jesus might be crazy.

Dept. of Amplification
1-30 am
Not just Pensacola, apparently. Digby points out that Orlando cops also need training to tell if a guy who rubs feces over his body, hears voices, and then paralyzes himself by banging his head against a wall needs psychiatric help -- or just another tazing.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

State Farm Ain't Here

"Like a good neighbor/ State Farm is there."
-- Ad jingle lyrics

Although it was profitable even in the hurricane-studded period of 2005-05, State Farm has been threatening to dump its Florida property insurance customers for the past four years.

Among other ridiculous shenanigans the company first talked the Florida legislature, back in '98, into letting it build a firewall between its Florida subsidiary and the parent corporation, so State Farm wouldn't have to disclose how much it really profits off all of its insurance businesses. Then, it started seeking out- of -sight premium hikes while overcharging its own Florida subsidiary for reinsurance.

Now, they claim they're finally going to do it. The largest insurer doing business in Florida has announced plans to drop an estimated 1.2 million Florida property insurance customers. Or, as one wag puts it, "State Farm is pulling out, because the house is no longer guaranteed its traditional winnings at blackjack."

Except it's not leaving right away. No, State Farm's spokeman says they will be 'phasing in' the plan to drop property insurance customers over two years. Moreover, any withdrawal plan also needs the approval of Florida regulators.

Bloomberg reports the company announced its plans "after state regulators denied a request to raise prices." Blackjack gone? Not really. The company still expects to be ripping off 2.8 million Floridians for auto, life, and health insurance. And it wants to continue having fun by "playing hardball" even with minor car-crash claims.

Legislation already has been introduced in the Florida state legislature to prohibit bad insurance neighbors like State Farm from "cherry picking." Under a bill being pushed by state senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) a company would have to offer "all the types of insurance it markets if it wants to do business at all in Florida."

Equally interesting is State Farm has announced "it intends to remain active in coastal Alabama." Why? Because Alabama regulators roll over every time the company asks for a rate increase without showing evidence of real need.

It's obvious State Farm is just playing the regulators. The company makes tons of money on property insurance, alone, even in Florida and even when we get hit by hurricanes. Indeed, according to a leaked draft of State Farm of Florida's withdrawal plan, "the 2004-2005 hurricanes put the company on the path to insolvency."

As the Orlando Sentinel, hardly a hotbed of anti-corporate radicalism, points out today, it won't be "the end of the world" if State Farm leaves Florida. Indeed, governor Charlie Crist says, "Floridians will be much better off without them."

State Farm not here? Thank goodness!

Newspaper Across the Neighborhood

We found this photo, above, somewhere on the Internet. It does not look exactly like the home-delivered Pensacola News Journal, which we had to gather up this morning from all over the neighborhood.

It's cold here today, but not that cold.

We also know it doesn't look like our newspaper because (1) we didn't find that many pages, even after chasing across seven neighboring yards in our underwear; and (2) that pile of pages you see, above, is way too neat.

Ours looked more like it had already been used for yard compost.

So, we call "customer service" to ask for a whole paper to be delivered. Right?

"One will be delivered tomorrow," the lady on the phone says with a cheerful lilt in her voice. "We no longer offer same day replacement, except on weekends. We're trying to save on ink and stuff."

"Well, we do hope the newspaper survives, but --" we begin.

"Me, too," the lady interrupts. Suddenly, she sounds like she's about to cry. "My husband and I are trying to pay on a big mortgage. I can't afford to lose this job."

As we have said before, we don't know what it will take to save the newspaper industry. But we're pretty sure pissing off the diminishing number of subscribers isn't one of them.

On the other hand, pathos can be a surprisingly effective customer retention strategy.

Wall Street Bonuses Sixth Largest on Record

Where most Americans work, bonuses are paid to employees who perform exceptionally well and the employer has had a profitable year. Not on Wall Street:
Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year. That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.
In fact, the total bonuses paid on Wall Street for the worst year since brokers began hurling themselves out the window in 1929 totaled "about... as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high."

Don't think for a moment the financial wizards who brought us to the brink of economic ruin are grateful. "A poll of 900 financial industry employees released on Wednesday by, a job search Web site, found that while nearly eight out of 10 got bonuses, 46 percent thought they deserved more."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Artless Radio

NPR radio's "All Things Considered" last night included a segment by Linda Blair featuring Republican criticisms of the measly $50 million for art included in the Obama administration's fiscal stimulus package. It was relatively long, too, running to four and half minutes.

Naturally, since writers, actors, and painters don't work on Wall Street the usual right-wing suspects had nothing but ridicule for the proposal:
"There is absolutely no way this will stimulate the economy," argues Brian Riedl, a senior federal budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation. He believes funding for the NEA — like several other items in the stimulus package — will not grow the economy.
Somehow, NPR managed to avoid even mentioning the Roosevelt administration's similar support for the arts in the Federal Writer's, the Federal Theater, and the PWAP and WPA projects. They were never even mentioned.

Can someone explain how NPR could do a relatively long report about federal funding for the arts and not mention a word about the greatest, most successful cultural and historical and artists' employment preservation initiative in history?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike (1932-2009)

Rabbit is at rest.

Spacy Florida

A couple of days ago, Orlando Sentinel reporters Aaron Deslatte and Robert Block broke the news that Florida governor Charlie Crist is ordering a state ethics investigation into one of his own former staff employees.

The newspaper is claiming that Brice Harris used his position in the governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development to arrange a half million dollar contract for the Andrews Institute of Gulf Breeze. Then, he "resigned his $70,000-a-year state job -- to take a job overseeing the project for the company he had helped get it."

Crist was more or less forced to run for the political cover of a typically toothless ethics investigation after the newspaper obtained "e-mails and other documents" showing that Harris engineered the grant to the Andrews Institute. Then he got waist-deep in the details of running the place by negotiating "minutae down to the design of the logos and shoulder patches the would-be space tourists would wear." And only then did he resign to take the "private sector" position of running the program himself.

That the hog trough is open for all public employees in Florida to self-deal with taxpayer money should not be surprising. After all, former governor Jeb Bush set the tone when he shagged the people of Florida by giving away millions of state money to Lehman Brothers (R.I.P.) and was rewarded soon after leaving office with a cushy consultant contract.

The majority leader of the statehouse, Ray Sansom (R-Destin), also knows a good scam when he sees it. He shoveled tens of millions of taxpayer funds at the once-obscure Okaloosa-Walton County Community College (now, with its ill-gotten wealth, re-christened "Northwest Florida State College"). For his troubles? He was given a $110,000 a year job for which he didn't even have the required advanced degree.

Never mind the absurdity of spending half a million dollars in Florida "tourism and development" money on "space tourism." Space tourism! Here along the Gulf Coast we can't even say that without giggling.

What really gets us is that the news media persist in referring to these all-too-common bag jobs as "potential ethics violations." They are to ethics what bank robbery is to a late payment to your credit card company.

The facts as reported spell out potential crimes. Rod Blagojevich-type crimes. Anyone -- including an elected official or someone who works for one -- who abuses his public position and deploys taxpayer money to secure a cushy job for himself should be indicted. Just as surely as Blagojevich will be.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nationalize, Don't Subsidize

More and more, one hears and reads talk that the only rational solution to the current economic crisis is to nationalize failing banks. And, frankly, it is the only thing that makes sense to us.

Dean Baker is the latest the latest to make the case:
The idea that we would give one more penny to this crew that has wrecked the economy should make taxpayers furious. There is a legitimate public interest in keeping the banks operating; a modern economy needs a well-operating financial system. But, there is zero public interest in rewarding shareholders and overpaid banks executives.

These executives bankrupted their banks and brought the economy down with them. They belong in an unemployment line, not collecting multi-million dollar paychecks in their designer office suites.

The obvious answer is to take over the insolvent banks, just as we did with the insolvent S&Ls. The government should form an RTC as we did in the 80s, which would dispose of the assets over time, collecting as much money as possible for the government. The bankrupt banks would be restructured and sold back to the private sector as soon as their books were straightened out.

The point of the exercise is not have the government run the banks, the point is to keep the financial system running without giving even more money to the richest people in the country.

Ink It

If there really is a Hell, it must have frozen over. Today's Pensacola Newsletter actually is running a rational, informed, and well-written "Viewpoint" editorial about church and state, by local lawyer Bruce Partington. Much better use of ink than this.

Here's a snippet:
The religion clauses are intended to protect those, who might believe differently, from the "fury" of the democratic majority, and to prevent the imposition of that faith on others who might believe otherwise.

Our Constitution strives to maintain a delicate balance between accommodating and not inhibiting the exercise of religious faith by citizens, while at the same time proscribing governmental actors from doing precisely that.

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers in balancing those competing interests has shown its value time and again. Unfortunately, that wisdom often comes under attack by well-meaning people of faith who incorrectly perceive the courts to be doing something other than what they are specifically charged to do — to protect the rights of all citizens, not just those in the majority at a given moment.
* * *
It takes bravery and wisdom to issue a ruling you know will inspire not mere disappointment, but "fury" by those who disagree with it. Judge Rodgers has shown us the bravery and wisdom we expect in our federal judges; for that she deserves our support as Americans and citizens under our Constitution.

If the PNJ is going down, at least let it go down proudly, having tried its best to educate the public, rather than pandering to the ignorant mob.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Your Bedtime Reading

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009"
(aka "Bailout 3.0")

647 pages of scintillating, hot pdf text!

(Who kidnapped the infrastructure?)

(Who's kissing whose asses?)

(Is Larry Summers really the father of those tax cuts?)
(What kind of "change" are all those tax cuts?)

Rated: MA-SVL
  • Sex
  • Violins
  • Legalisms

Schrenker Embraces the Fish Monger's Defense

National news services report today that Indiana stock broker Marcus Schrenker is claiming amnesia. Schrenker is the financial advisor accused of bilking hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers and then crashing his private plane near Milton in a bizarre scheme to fake his own death.
Marcus Schrenker called The New York Post from the Escambia County Jail on Wednesday night and Thursday night and told the newspaper that he has no memory of the events of Jan. 11.
* * *
"I have no memory of any of it — not going to the airport, being in the air, nothing," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The reason Schenker is in our midst is that he has been indicted by a Pensacola federal grand jury on charges related to sending a "false distress message." That's nothing, of course, compared to his legal problems back home in Indiana:
Investigators there compiled evidence and collected testimony that Schrenker had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in clients' money, forged client signatures and obtained licenses to sell insurance in several states, apparently in an effort to avoid prosecution.
The thing is, we have Schrenker here; they don't have him there.

His claim "not to recall the events of the day he bailed out" is an all-too-familiar defense in Pensacola. Frank Patti, the locally prominent fish monger, made a similarly preposterous claim when he crashed his vehicle at slow-mo speed into the historic locomotive on display along Garden Street six years ago, shortly after he was indicted on multi-million dollar tax evasion charges.

Never thought we'd say this: Frank Patti isn't the biggest dumbbell in Pensacola. At least his absurd claim of amnesia conveniently stretched back in time to the very same day he signed the first in a string of incriminating checks and documents.

Schrenker, according to news reports, only claims to have blanked out the day he went flying. That would mean he must still remember how he cheated all those customers of his.

Here's our medical prognosis: Shrenker's amnesia will get worse. As soon as he learns more details about the Frank Patti defense, and how gently Frank was treated after his conviction, the stock broker's memory will get worse -- all the way back to the first time he defrauded a customer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Booze-Free Beach - Sort Of

Pensacola Beach ought to be included in Roget's Thesaurus as a synonym for irony. Last night, Escambia County commissioners voted to designate nearly two acres immediately west of the fishing pier at Casino Beach as "an alcohol-free zone."

To celebrate, tonight the rock band "Rehab" is playing at Capt'n Fun on the beach. The band, we read, is "known for the current hit 'Sittin' at a Bar.'"

Why set aside the west side of the fishing pier for teetotallers, and not a portion of the far more popular east side? The official line is that it will enhance Pensacola Beach's reputation as a "family friendly" beach.

We think the real reason is the same one that leads you to stick smelly ol' grandma and her wheelchair in a back room when you're having a party. Party-poopers are a real downer.

However that may be, as of today beach-goers who don't want to risk having contact with someone who might be drinking will have a corner of the beach all their own. Except, of course, they won't.

They'll have to share it with the surfing crowd. A few years ago, the Island Authority also confined surfers to the west side of the pier. The idea, then, was to protect sunbathers and swimmers from being unexpectedly impaled by a surf board.

Now, presumably, only stone-sober swimmers will be at risk from a runaway surfboard. That must be what we mean by "family friendly."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Window on Wall Street

Jim Zarroli (NPR reporter), summarized: Former Merrill Lynch CEO/Bank of America executive John Thain --
However, Jim Zarroli assures us, Thain is regarded by Wall Street as "smart"and "illustrious." Indeed, even today he is "well regarded" by his Wall Street peers.

That's all you need to know about Wall Street's standards.

Wall Street Puts Another One Over On You

A reader of Josh Marshall's reports that Merrill Lynch paid $3-4 billion in early bonuses, just days before it was acquired by Bank of America, backstopped by $128 billion in taxpayer TARP funds.
John Thain, former head of Merrill and now formerly with BofA (fired today), paid the bonuses earlier than they are normally paid (late January, February) because he knew that once the BofA deal closed, he would be unable to "reward" all those hardworking Merrill bankers and traders who lost a mere $27 billion in 2008
The reader makes a larger point that Congress (and those of us who vote for congress persons) should keep in mind:
I worked on Wall Street for 15 years, and was laid off late last year. I can tell you this for sure: you don't need to pay a dime in bonus to anyone on Wall Street these days. I know this firsthand: there's nowhere to go!

Where would a Merrill banker unhappy with a donut for a bonus go? Lehman? Bear? Bank of America? There are no jobs on Wall Street, there are no jobs on Main Street (and certainly none that will even pay close to what these guys earn just in salary; my salary alone put me in the 99+ percentile in income).

These guys aren't going to leave Merrill because of no bonus to become CEOs, law firm partners, or MLB shortstops. They'll do what every single person I know on Wall Street that still has a job: they'll keep their heads down and hope the next round of layoffs doesn't include them.

Want to see some limits on executive compensation for federally-funded banks and brokerage houses, anyone?

Ranking Badness

Escambia County sheriff's office spokesman Sgt. Ted Roy apparently told Pensacola Newsletter reporter Thyrie Bland, "right below" sex offender "is someone impersonating a police officer."

An arguable ranking, perhaps, if the sergeant is speaking in ascending order of badness. Some might suppose a sex offender is worse than a police impersonator. But go with it for purposes of discussion.

Where on the badness scale should we place a news reporter whose lede teases, "Charlie Hamrick is glad his daughter followed her instincts" ... but who then neglects to tell us what it is the daughter did when a cop impersonator stopped her on the highway?

Our spouse is the most dedicated daily newspaper reader we know. She reads the PNJ cover to cover every morning, day in and day out, without fail. Lately, however, even she has been asking why we continue the subscription.

News articles like this one make it hard to come up with an answer.

Presidential Oath Precedents

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

-- U.S. Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 1


"He should probably go ahead and take the oath again," Turley said. "If he doesn't, there are going to be people who for the next four years are going to argue that he didn't meet the constitutional standard. I don't think it's necessary, and it's not a constitutional crisis. This is the chief justice's version of a wardrobe malfunction."

-- Prof. Jonathan Turley
Although we might wish it were grounds for impeachment and removal from the bench, we're on the side of those who say the stumbling administration of the presidential oath by Chief Justice John Roberts was of no legal consequence. Nevertheless, so we're now being told, the Chief asked for a do-over, just to be sure. The second swearing-in happened last night in the privacy of the oval office.

Smart move. There are too many litigious right-wing nuts out there, ready to sue at the drop of a syllable. In any event, taking a Mulligan in the administration of the presidential oath is not unprecedented.

Chester A. Arthur became president (to the consternation of just about everyone who considered him a political hack, including himself) when James A. Garfield was assassinated. He had the oath administered by a New York state court judge.

Later, he reconsidered the stickiness of an oath administered by a lowly state court judge, and took it again, this time with the help of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In somewhat similar circumstances, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his own father, a Vermont notary public, after learning that Warren G. Harding had expired of a heart attack brought on by too much sex and booze. Coolidge, too, later re-took the oath with a federal judge.

Perhaps the closest precedent to Justice Roberts' screw-up, as the Legal Times blog reminds us, occurred when Herbert Hoover's presidential oath was garbled by then-Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Interestingly, however, neither man thought it necessary to re-do it.
Taft's recitation of the oath had Hoover swearing to "preserve, maintain, and defend" the Constitution instead of the "preserve, protect, and defend" formulation set forth in the Constitution.
[T]he only one to notice the error was an eighth-grade girl from upstate New York who heard the blunder on the radio. She wrote Taft, who replied that he was quite sure he had made a different error, stating "preserve, maintain and protect." He chalked up the error to "an old man's memory."

But that was not the end of it. The schoolgirl, named Helen Terwilliger, stuck to her guns, and the dispute became something of a public controversy. Three newsreel companies checked their tapes and pronounced the girl correct. Taft eventually confessed error, but shrugged it off. "After all, I don't think it's important."

Apparently it wasn't; Hoover was not sworn in again.
As long as we're mining this arcane historical subject, there's one last item we want to mention. Franklin Pierce, who probably would be ranked as the worst president in history if James Buchanan, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush hadn't come along later, declined to swear his presidential oath. Instead, he affirmed. He was a Quaker and took literally the biblical injunction not to swear an oath.

Solid precedents, all, but, candidly, none a good president.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Roberts Gets a Mulligan

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who swung and missed at the presidential oath yesterday, took a Mulligan this evening and re-administered the oath in private to President Barack Obama.

Bush Years - The Final Score

Bush - 399 ; America - 0

Last Election Story

Before we leave behind for good all of the presidential election year stuff, we need to send this quick story into the Internet Pipes, for the sake of posterity.

An elderly acquaintance of a good friend of ours received all those emails last year predicting Barack Obama would seize everyone's handguns and take away their bibles.

"Don't be ridiculous," our friend told her. "That's nonsense."

"No, it's true," the acquaintance insisted, quite sincerely. "He's a Muslim, you know."

When the results were known Election Night here along the Gulf Coast, about 11 pm, everyone toasted the newly elected president. Then, speaking of her acquaintance, our friend said, "Now, let's call, wake her up, and tell her we're coming for her bible."

Rare Sight

Presidential Executive Orders
(as of Jan. 21, 2009 at 6:00 am CST):

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Final Incompetence

It figures that Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, would screw up the presidential oath of office.

The oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The screw-up:

Remember, Roberts prides himself on being an "originalist" and relying on the ancient text to interpret constitutional meaning. It might help if he could read words correctly.

"Keepers of the Legacy"

Barack Obama's inauguration speech:
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
Full text here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Presidential Inauguration Precedent

Our personal political memory reaches back as far as 1957 and Eisenhower's second inaugural, an easily forgettable (and forgotten) event. In all the many years since, we cannot recall a single presidential inauguration that has attracted as much attention or generated so much excitement as we're seeing now for president-elect Barack Obama.

Not even John Kennedy's inauguration, now almost half a century in the past, rivals it. That event attracted the most attention of any inauguration over the ensuing decades, although the way we remember it most of the excitement came afterward, ignited by his call to"ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Enthusiasm for Obama and "the powerful wave of optimisim" he has generated across the country is a good thing. But it's also good to remember that Barack Obama is just as human as was Abraham Lincoln. He's a dad, like Lincoln was. He makes mistakes, as Lincoln did. He has kids who make them, too.

And his luggage can be lost, just like ours:
When they left Spingfield Lincoln had put his inaugural address and other papers in a small, old fashioned black oilcloth carpetbag, which he had entrusted to his oldest son Robert for safekeeping. However, he failed to tell the eighteen-year-old that it contained the precious speech. The press was calling him "The Prince of the Rails," and at almost every stop boys his own age were ready to pounce on him to "do him the honors after their own capricious whims." And here they were at the first pouncable stop, Indianapolis.

When Lincoln reached his room at the Bates House he remembered the carpetbag and its top-secret contents. He called urgently for Robert only to learn that he had been snatched away by "The Boys" for a tour of Indianapolis.When finally found and brought in, he blandly told his father he had handed the carpetbag to the clerk at the hotel.

"And what did the clerk do with it?" demanded his father.

"Set it on the floor nehind the counter," Robert answered.

John Nicolay, a witness to all of this, saw a "look of stupefaction" pass over Lincoln's face, with "visions of that Inaugural in all the next morning's papers" floating "through his imagination." Without a word, Nicolay recounted, "he opened the door, forced his way through the crowded corridor down to the office, where, with a single stride of his long legs, he sung himself across the counter, behind which a small mountain of all colors had accumulated. Then drawing a little key out of his pockeyt he began delving for the black ones, and opened one by one of those that the key would unlock, to the great surprise and amusement of the clerkand bystanders, as their miscellaneous conents came to light. Fortune favored the president-elect, for after the first half dozen trials he found his treasures."

Robert was somewhat sternly admonished, but there was an upside. For the rest of the trip he no longer had to watch over the carpetbag.

John C. Waugh, One Man Great Enough:
Abraham Lincoln's Road to Civil War
Harcourt Press (2007) at 383-34

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hot, Flat, and Hypocritical

Thomas ("Suck on this, Iraq") Friedman is a very bad joke. Matt Taibbi is a real writer:
When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.

Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 114,000 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.
Not to mention Friedman's metaphors are "tortured," "hilarious," and "fu*ked." And his chief inspirations "come when Friedman golfs... looks at Burger King signs... and reads bumper stickers... ."

If you're a Friedman fan, read the whole review to restore your sanity.

Wake Us When He's Gone

Forget what Historians of the Future will think of him. Accordingly to the right-of-center Economist, Bush can't even hold his head high at a family picnic:
The Bush family name, once among the most illustrious in American political life, is now so tainted that Jeb, George’s younger brother, recently decided not to run for the Senate from Florida. A Bush relative describes family gatherings as “funeral wakes”.
The essential problem is that George W. Bush is stupid, lazy, and incurious. Worse, according to his own speech writer, Bush surrounded himself with like-minded mirrors:
David Frum, who wrote speeches for Mr Bush during his first term, noted that “conspicuous intelligence seemed actively unwelcome in the Bush White House”. The Bush cabinet was “solid and reliable”, but contained no “really high-powered brains”. Karen Hughes, one of his closest advisers, “rarely read books and distrusted people who did”. Ron Suskind, a journalist, has argued that Mr Bush created a “faith-based presidency” in which decisions, precisely because they were based on faith, could not be revised subsequently.
Almost everyone continues to speak in amazed tones about how a black American, or more precisely a mixed-race American, is about to be sworn in as President of the United States. More impressive to us is that that we have elected an intelligent American to become president.

As someone said during the campaign last summer, "What's Obama's secret? He's smart. He reads. He knows his sh*t." What a difference.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sayonara, Circuit City

Circuit City is no more. Who could have guessed that firing your most senior, knowledgeable sales staff would be a bad business plan?

Update: This is rich. Circuit City was pressured into selling off its inventory by none other than Ponzi Bank of America.

Saving Ink

In these parlous economic times for Pensacola's version of a daily newspaper, not to mention newspapers generally, there should be some sort of cost controls on the use of ink. We suggest the PNJ begin by adopting this hard and fast rule:
No Viewpoint article will be published about any constitutional law issue when that Viewpoint consists of illogical gibberish written by a poorly educated high school graduate nearing his thirties who doesn't have a clue about the Bill of Rights ... or the American Civil Liberties Union ... or the sad history of the world when it comes to religious intolerance ... or the Federal court system.
Yes, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, however idiotic and ill-informed it may be; but, no, a dying newspaper has no obligation to publish it.

Note to all Pace High School students:
The individual rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution are not subject to the momentary whims of a majority vote, such as whether or not to "promote prayer and religious influence in Santa Rosa schools."

Avian Flew

Dan Drezner, on the captivating news of US Airways flight 1549 and the pilot hero, Chesley B. ("Sully") Sullenberger III:
While most birds probably wish to peacefully coexist with humans, it is becoming increasingly clear that a small group of radicalized avians are hell-bent on destroying our way of life. This can not stand.

I, for one, look forward to President Bush's declaration of a War on Birds. Unfortunately, this will last only four days, after which President Obama will no doubt appoint this guy as special envoy to the avian community.

U.S. to Rescue Ponzi Bank of America

Before dawn today it was announced that the Treasury Department will commit $138 billion to saving the common shareholders of Bank of America. In return, the Treasury Department will take only $20 billion in preferred stock. That's not quite 15 cents on the dollar.

This is the enormous frosting now being spread on top of an earlier huge bailout of "$15 billion into Bank of America and $10 billion into Merrill [Lynch, now owned by Bank of America] to bolster the combined company against the credit crunch." And it gets even worse. The bulk of today's triple- billion- digit bailout is in the form of asset insurance.
In the latest Bank of America deal, the government will protect a $118 billion pool of assets that a U.S. official said includes residential and commercial real-estate holdings and credit-default swaps.
What that means, as the New York Times explains, is that the actual amount of risk assumed in the name of the taxpayers could be much, much higher. "If the government-guaranteed securities turn out to be worthless, the cost of the insurance would be much higher than if the Treasury Department had simply bailed out the banks with cash in the first place."

Heck of a job, Hank Paulson. And, heck of a job by Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis, too. His past annual compensation totaled $15.6 million per year ($1.5 in base salary, $5 million bonus, $10 million stock options).
Lewis, 61, has spent $129 billion on acquisitions, including regional lenders FleetBoston Financial Corp. and LaSalle Bank, credit-card issuer MBNA and investment manager U.S. Trust Co.

"Bank of America has all kinds of problems with its acquisitions," said Gary Townsend, a former bank analyst and president of Hill-Townsend Capital LLC in Chevy Chase, Maryland. "They’ve been so acquisitive, they find themselves with very little in tangible equity."
And that was before BoA took on the poisoned assets of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Mortgage.

Someone tell us, please: Just what is the difference between Bernie Madoff and Ken Lewis? Both of them were running Ponzi schemes, weren't they?

Madoff suckered investors into giving him their money, bought not much, repaid a smidgen back in dribbles with new money as he found new suckers, and spent the rest on himself. Until he ran out of suckers, that is.

Lewis suckered investors into giving him their money, bought shitpile companies with worthless assets, took for himself more than $15 million per year, and now that he has run out of money, we are the suckers who will be giving him new money.

If Madoff ever goes to jail (don't bet on it!) shouldn't Lewis be his cellmate?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

America's Bank

No one could have predicted it was a bad idea for Bank of America to buy Countrywide, the world's biggest mortgage lender debtor, and Merrill Lynch, owner of the world's most toxic mortgage derivatives and CDO's. At least, no one BoA's chief executive, Ken Lewis, knows.

The taxpayers already have shoveled $25 billion at Bank of America. Now they want more because their idiotic decisions have ruined them.

We're with Atrios. Nationalize them all.

Wall Street Woes

The TeeVee talking heads who make their living day in and day out hyping Wall Street stocks briefly wondered aloud today, as the market plunged once again, "How did it all go wrong?"

Then they all agreed, "It wasn't Wall Street's fault. The Government let us do it."

Deed for Taxes Redux

The demand of a deed-for-taxes on Santa Rosa Island will not go away.

Sex in the City Room

The single editorial in today's Pensacola Newsletter is most peculiar. The paper takes after a local, justifiably respected judge for passing "sentence on a 28-year-old woman who not only had sex with a 16-year-old male who worked for her, but took him to Texas, along with her two young children."

Judge Ron Swanson, claims the editorial, sentenced the defendant to "one year" in prison. (Actually, it was three years in prison, with two of them suspended pending probation.) The newspaper finds that outrageous:
A one-year prison sentence shows how little the court values a male in sexual assault cases such as this.

Unfortunately, stereotypes in sexual assault cases still exist and are still bought hook, line and sinker by judges.

Justice in Santa Rosa no longer is blind. It's seeing double, as in double standard.
Now, we have no special knowledge about this case, the evidence presented at this trial, or whatever detailed facts about the defendant or the crime may have been presented at the sentencing hearing. We seriously doubt the newspaper has much first-hand knowledge of the facts, either, since -- as is apparent here -- the PNJ didn't assign a reporter to attend the sentencing hearing, but just had someone phone in the results.

What we do know is that every case in every courtroom has a lot of them -- facts, that is -- and from a single sentence in a single case handed down by a single judge no one can rationally conclude an entire county's judicial system "no longer is blind." That's just plain nuts.

Even if, as the editorial recites, the defense attorney argued "the predator ... in this case... wasn't my client'' that is not a fact; it is merely one lawyer's argument to the court. There's no suggestion in the editorial that the judge bought it. Indeed, both the editorial and that curiously uninformative sentencing news item from January 8 -- is conspicuously silent on what the judge, himself, had to say.

If the outcome in this one case, as the PNJ would have it, defines the quality of justice in Santa Rosa County, what would the newspaper make of any case in Escambia County -- as we can be sure there are -- where a judge may have out-right dismissed a sex crime charge, or a jury acquitted the defendant, or the sentencing decision imposed probation rather than jail time, just as in the Santa Rosa case?

No one is more sympathetic than we are to the precipitous decline in the Pensacola News Journal's news-gathering abilities. From the looks of what has been landing in our flower bed every morning of late, there's hardly anyone left in the city news room.

But that is no excuse for editorially tarring an entire county's judicial system based on the outcome of a sentencing hearing in a single case which the newspaper itself couldn't or wouldn't report in any detail.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Please Feed the Reporters

Pensacola News Journal employees presumably are included in Gannett Corp.'s decision to order everyone to take a one week unpaid leave this year.

The Banks Want it All

FED chairman Ben Bernanke said in a London speech yesterday that the banks need the rest of the TARP (i.e. bailout) money -- and more besides. His speech was intended as a shot across the bow of the incoming Obama administration: Billions for banks, nada for everyone else.
Mr. Bernanke, tacitly acknowledging the unpopularity of the bailout program, said the public was “understandably concerned” about pouring hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into financial companies — especially when other industries were getting the cold shoulder.

But, he insisted, there was no escape. “This disparate treatment, unappealing as it is, appears unavoidable,” Mr. Bernanke said.
The reason he gives? The Bush recession, escalating unemployment, and rising bankruptcies will lead to more losses for the banks, now estimated to reach nearly $2 trillion.

Here's our favorite part, the one that sends our blood pressure through the top of our skull:
Citigroup is not alone. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and most other big banks all expect enormous losses as millions of consumers default on their mortgages, credit cards and automobile loans. Other losses are expected on loans made to commercial real estate developers, small businesses and for highly leveraged corporate buyout deals.
Rinse and repeat that: Consumers are going broke so we need to give away money to Wall Street. To pay for things like "highly leveraged corporate buyout deals"???

This raises a new question. Just when are Bernanke and Secretary of Treasury Paulsen planning to fly their airplanes into the ground near Milton and escape in a canoe?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bailout Broker Collared in Panhandle

Missing Indiana stock broker and financial analyst Marcus Schrencker has been captured in the Florida panhandle town of Qunicy and is now in the custody ofGadsen County's sheriff.

Of course it would be the Florida Panhandle. Don't all con men head here when they need a big score?

Gifts from the Bush Era

As a parting gift, the Worst.President.In.History at yesterday's press conference gave English teachers a classic example they can use to illustrate the vague antecedent pronoun:
"I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best."
He also gave miscreants of all ages, everywhere, an object lesson in how to avoid responsibility for one's own actions -- pretend you were just an innocent witness.
In his own way, the outgoing president acknowledged that the past five years have, by many measures, been one long pratfall. But he spoke as though he were an innocent bystander, watching the mishaps rather than having any culpability for them. To Bush, they were not mistakes -- just disappointments. "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency," he said. "Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment -- I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but, they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."
That's almost as good as "the dog ate my foreign policy."

Bush also offered America's parents of young soldiers something to remember him by. Asked if it wasn't a lonely feeling, at times, to know that as president he'd been sending America's children to their deaths in that "war of choice" in Iraq, Bush responded with all the sensitivity and introspection of an overgrown frat boy:
No, not for me. We had a -- people -- we -- I had a fabulous team around me of highly dedicated, smart, capable people, and we had fun. * * * Even in the darkest moments of Iraq, you know, there was -- and every day when I was reading the reports about soldiers losing their lives, no question there was a lot of emotion, but also there was times where we could be light-hearted and support each other.
This was supposed to be his last press conference. Think you're done with him? Think again.

Now, he's planning an evening television address to the nation Thursday night "to reflect on his time in office and the ways our country has changed these past eight years." Let's see if he claims we're better off now than we were eight years ago.

That Tee-Vee thingy won't be the end of Bush, either. He isn't talking about it, but he'll surely be leaving behind a blanket pardon for all those criminals he brought to Washington.

It's very doubntful that a president can pardon himself. So, here's an idea for something we could give him: A "Go Canadian" travel kit to help Bush avoid arrest for war crimes should he risk an overseas trip.

Monday, January 12, 2009

May Day, May Day

That Hoosier stockbroker who radioed a distress call Monday and then put his plane down east of Milton turns out to be another fraudulent stockbroker on the run.

Marcus Schrenker, age 38, of Indianapolis has disappeared. The head of "Heritage Wealth Management" initially was feared hurt or dead from a mechanical failure of his airplane.
According to the police in Santa Rosa County in the Florida Panhandle, where the plane went down, Mr. Schrenker turned up safely about 220 miles north of there. And there is evidence that Mr. Schrenker was an experienced pilot who might have been trying to fake his own death. His life seemed to be unraveling. Court records show that Mr. Schrenker’s wife filed for divorce on Dec. 30. A Maryland court recently issued a judgment of more than $500,000 against one of three Indiana companies registered in his name — and all three are being investigated for securities fraud by the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, a spokesman, Jim Gavin, said.
After the police kindly gave him a lift to a motel, he disappeared "into the woods" again. He was last known to be "wet from the knees down," wearing "a black toboggan cap," and carrying "what the police described as 'goggles that looked like they were made for flying.' "

Of course, that could have changed by now. But you can recognize him, we're pretty sure, by the planeload of cash he's carrying with him.

When the history of our era is written, stock brokers deservedly will rank as low as the "mostly coarse, brutal" knights of the fourteenth century, whose "chief passion, besides warfare and excessive drinking, was the unrestricted satisfaction of their sexual desires."

Substitute "money" for "sex" and you have a perfect picture of Wall Street at the opening of the 21st century.

Old Criticisms of the New Deal

Some dinosaurs will never learn:
At the start of the Bush administration, conservatives talked openly about rolling back the New Deal. They were trying to unravel the regulatory state, including protections for workers, consumers and investors. They were also promoting a favorite cause of Wall Street’s: privatizing Social Security, the crown jewel ofthe New Deal.

These days the public is in no mood, given the high costs of deregulation in the mortgage industry and the Bernard Madoff scandal, for more talk about dismantling regulations and federal oversight. But today, the new focus is Mr. Obama’s stimulus package. If F.D.R.’s New Deal spending made things worse, it follows that the Obama administration should not make the same mistake.

The anti-New Deal line is wrong as a matter of economics. F.D.R.’s spending programs did help the economy and created millions of new jobs. The problem, we now know, is not that F.D.R. spent too much priming the pump, but rather that he spent too little. It was his decision to cut back on spending on New Deal programs that brought about a nasty recession in 1937-38.

The second problem is that the criticism overlooks the relief Roosevelt’s programs brought to millions. When F.D.R. took office, unemployment was 25 percent, and families were losing their homes, living in shantytowns, even fighting one another for food at garbage dumps.

The difference that the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and other New Deal public works programs made in people’s lives is incalculable.
* * *
Congressional Republicans say Mr. Obama’s stimulus will cost too much, and that over time the economy will cure itself. When critics raised the same objections to F.D.R.’s programs, his relief administrator, Harry Hopkins, had a ready answer: “People don’t eat in the long run. They eat every day.”

Bad Art Burned

Judging from email inquiries we've received, we need to clarify something for those uninitiated to what we could call the Milton art market.

The George Snow Hill mural we were relieved to see rescued from inside the Santa Rosa Historical Society offices after the Great Milton Fire of 2009 is not -- repeat, not -- to be confused with the outdoor mural of historical municipal heads so utterly, inescapably visible from the street. The former is good art. The latter is bad art. Really, really bad art.

We're hearing that a number of county courthouse officials are rooting for the bad art building to be torn down completely. See the photo above to see why.

The building surely is as good as gone, proving there is a god, after all, and she knows art.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Que Lastima!

This editorial yesterday was a nice touch. This helps most News Journal readers, too.

Ahora, estamos esperando que los españoles no pueden leer los tableros de mensaje del Internet, donde muchos residentes de Pensacola exhiben cómo son ignorantes, insanos, estúpidos y racista.

(Shorter translation: There sure are some real idiots who post messages on the Pensacola News Journal's tubes.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Alabama Recipe

How do you feed a prisoner on $1.75 a day and make a profit? You don't, unless you live in Alabama.

Paper-thin bologna
Bloody chicken
Cold grits
1 apple for Christmas

Serve as long as it lasts and pocket $95,000 a year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ante Up

Jane Hamsher wants to play poker with Harry Reid. Can we get in on the game, too?

Journalism in Pensacola

Watching Panhandle pygmies like these two word-wrestle is mildly entertaining, but it isn't going to save the Pensacola daily newspaper -- or help the Gulf Breeze weekly, for that matter. It's still just "mush and milk."

What's needed is "the fervent spirit of Tennesseean journalism." Wake us when O'Brien starts throwing sharp objects at someone.

Mural Saved from Milton Fire

Except for Bill Gamblin's reporting in the Santa Rosa County Press-Gazette, local TV and newspaper reporting about Tuesday night's destructive fire in downtown Milton has been long on big headlines and dramatic photos, but short on facts. To some extent, this is to be expected. No one stops to read a fire.

The good news that you can't find anywhere else is that George Snow Hill's 1941 mural "Loading Pulpwood" somehow survived the fire, smoke, and water with minimal damage. Other than the Imogene Theater itself, "Loading Pulpwood" was perhaps the most important and valuable piece of Americana put at risk by the spectacular fire.

When we last saw the painting a few months ago it was in a setting more appropriate for a feed store than a museum: on a dirty wooden floor in the empty (and dismally lighted) east room of the two-room county historical museum, propped up against a dusty brick wall that abuts the rest of the Imogene Theater.

When we learned that the Imogene Theater had caught fire, we remembered that depressing scene and feared for the mural's fate. But we now have it on the highest authority that the oil-on-canvass painting was retrieved from the damaged Santa Rosa Historical Society museum about mid-morning Wednesday and has been taken for storage to "an undisclosed location." Likely, this is the former Milton post office, which was the painting's original home.

The mural is said to be in sound shape, though in need of cleaning. Nothing new, there. The painting has been in need of curatorial care and cleaning for decades. Judging from the casual way it's been handled over the past decade, few in Santa Rosa County have fully understood the gem they have in "Loading Pulpwood."

George Snow Hill was one of Florida's, and the nation's, leading regionalist painters. His work, particularly that done in the 1930's and 1940's, was very much of the same school and caliber as that of Thomas Hart Benton, John Stuart Curry, and Grant Wood.

But they were white. George Snow Hill was black, a fact that along with the usual fickleness of the art market helps to explain why so many of Hill's works have been lost, damaged, stolen, or neglected.

It always puzzled us why Santa Rosa County did not feature the mural as a tourist attraction. But the county isn't alone. One of the few other known murals by Hill in the Florida panhandle, as we recall reading several years ago, was accidentally discovered beneath a coating of wall paint in a former post office building which was bought by a private law firm. Other Hill murals have been discovered on the walls of a public building in St. Petersburg which was being converted to a night club.

The neglect of George Snow Hill has only recently begun to change. In the late 1990's, as an archived St. Petersburg Times article explains, Tampa's airport authority spent $300,000 restoring seven of his murals and has since featured them as part of its public art display.

Impressive as the Tampa murals are, we've always considered "Loading Pulpwood" to be even better. As a work of art it seems to us technically superior and emotionally more evocative. If it's ever professionally cleaned, it would also rank among his most colorful.

We used to visit the painting frequently. Before Ivan, we had a number of photos of it. Now that we know the original mural in Milton is safe, we're looking forward to having our own photograph of it again, very soon.

Perhaps after Santa Rosa County receives an economic stimulus grant from the Obama administration to properly restore and display this truly unique -- and, considering the extensiveness of the Milton fire, lucky -- work of art by an American master.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

AirTran Travel Alert

Normally, we do not do crossword puzzles. But when flying through Atlanta, the frequent delays compel travelers to use every time-wasting tool at their disposal.

So, before we leave behind that New England vacation of ours with all the memorable photos we took, we want to alert everyone who plans to fly on AirTran this month that the crossword puzzle in the airline's January issue of "Go" magazine has an error.

The given clue for 48-down is "Moline native" -- with five letters. Crossword puzzle writer Tom Schier to the contrary notwithstanding, the answer should not be "Iowan."

But it is in Airtran's world. The weird thing is, Airtran has a direct flight from Pensacola to Moline. Let's hope the pilots know that Moline is in Illinois.

Vacation Pictures

As we've been hinting, over the holidays we made a quick trip to visit relatives and see the sights in New England. We're back home, now, but thanks to the wonders of digital photography we've almost instantly put together an album of memories. We'll be sure to treasure them just about as long as they can be viewed with current technology -- a couple more years, anyway.

The airplane trip from Pensacola to Boston wasn't long. But the waiting inside airports was interminable. First, there was a three hour delay at Pensacola's airport while air traffic controllers in Atlanta tried to figure out how to turn on their computers. Then another four hour wait in Atlanta, due to "inclement weather" or so we were told.

a photo of the "inclement weather" out the window, taken as our airplane was beginning its descent. The airplane was shaking quite a lot and something heavy from the overhead bin fell on us just as we were snapping the picture, so it didn't turn out quite as sharp as we hoped.

Boston was cold, windy, and snowy. We were concerned that dropping in so suddenly on the relatives might have inconvenienced them, but were relieved to discover they'd already prepared for us by shoveling out a dog run on their lawn, below. We didn't bring a dog with us, but they had one of their own on hand, just in case.

The Northeast, we discovered, is far more advanced, environmentally speaking, than the Gulf Coast. For one example: the "waterless urinal" at the Ikea store in Staughton (below). It's really too bad that we couldn't photograph the smell, too.

After days and days (and more days and days) cooped up with grousing relatives, we decided we needed a break. All that quality family time was getting on the nerves. So on the spur of the moment we set off on a drive to New York City for the weekend (below).

Along the way, we had a chance to do some shopping and sample a few restaurants. Below, one of the restaurants:

Shopping once upon a time must have been possible in the "Antique Mall" in New Bedford. We asked if there wasn't a newer New Bedford, but the answer was disappointing.

The snow started up, again, just north of New Haven (below). The going was slow, so it's hard to understand why this photo didn't turn out a little clearer.

We were so excited by the time we reached the Big Apple that we couldn't resist snapping a photo at our first glimpse of the Chrysler Building (below). Unfortunately, a couple of days later we realized we had been in Midtown at the time, and that church spire you see in the distance isn't the Chrysler Building, after all. It doesn't even look like the Chrysler Building.

Driving along the East River, we were excited to see something quite unusual floating along. Can't remember what it was, now, but if you look really close you can sort of see its shape there, off to the left.

One of our objectives in the Big Apple was to visit the Museum of Modern Art to see the Van Gogh exhibit. However, the line was too long -- it stretched completely around a very long and very wide block. Moreover, once we had survived the -12 degree wind chill and were inside, we faced another two hour wait. So, instead, we contented ourselves with a tour of the paintings on permanent exhibition on the fifth and sixth floors. Below: A view of the stairs.

The painting, below, must have really impressed us. But we can't remember what it looked like or who did it:

Another must-do for us was to visit the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, and maybe sit at the Roundtable in the same chair that Dorothy Parker occupied.

However, the Oak Room was temporarily closed when we stopped by. A stern looking fellow with a bulge under one arm allowed us to peek in, but he warned that photographs were not permitted. We thanked him and then cleverly started our camera's timer, placed it on a rectangular table with a view of the room, and stepped far enough away that no one could suspect us of illegal picture-taking. To be sure, the result (below) is mostly table, but we're pretty sure Dorothy Parker's chair must be in there, somewhere, although there were no round tables to be seen.

This is Times Square in the background. We have no idea who the people in the foreground are. Really, we don't. They just asked us to take their picture, so we did.

One of the more astonishing sights we saw in New York was a stranger drinking beer in an Irish bar. We estimate his beer mug (below) must hold a half gallon or more.

Nothing much happened on the return trip home, except for another three hour wait in Atlanta's airport. There, we saw this on the back of a man's T-shirt:

One question we're left with is, did his ex-girlfriend give him that shirt when they split up or did he pick it out all by himself? Another question is, what could be the mental state of someone who would wear such a shirt in public?