Question: How did Fox News attempt to discredit the recent U of Maryland study that found Fox viewers to be a comparatively misinformed bunch?
a.  Attacked the wording of the study’s questionnaire
b.  Characterized the directors of the study as left wingers
c.  Claimed the study’s correct answers came from biased sources
d.  Belittled the study as mere fodder for the liberal mainstream media
Correct answer: All of the above
A News Organization Like no Other

I tried to find out how other news sources had handled similar studies or findings that implied continuing inaccuracy in their reporting, but strangely enough, I couldn’t find any. Sure, there were lots of complaints about different news organizations misreporting specific stories, and lots of individuals claiming left and right bias in the mainstream media, but there was no similar academic study finding the viewers of a specific news channel to be consistently more misinformed than non-viewers. In this journalistically embarrassing category, Fox News stands alone.

This is where Fox’ claim of liberal bias comes in handy, though. Ailes and crew refute the study by claiming the professors who designed the study are liberals who have it in for Fox, thus discrediting the study and reinforcing anti-intellectualism in an inspired Fox News twofer. In addition, they claim liberal or Democratic bias in the experts who determined the study’s correct answers. Finally, they trot out their timeworn claim of left-wing bias in the mainstream media. If it ain’t the professors, it’s the experts, claims Fox. If it ain’t the professors and experts, it’s the reporters reporting the story. Presto–study refuted. It’s almost poetically foolproof, in a wild-eyed paranoid kind of way.

Though we probably didn’t need an academic study to confirm our nagging suspicion that Fox just might not be on the up and up, it’s nice to have as a tangible reference. It also serves as a reminder that our democracy has never before seen such a strange, potentially calamitous phenomenon as Fox News, where facts are selectively partisan and the viewer comes away from the TV with an alternate universe firmly planted in his head.

The Fox Effect

Take the subject of global warming, for instance. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming is likely due to man’s activity. They also believe that its effects, left unchecked, will lead to catastrophe for life on our planet. Further, they agree that our only hope lies in immediate action to counter its effects. Meanwhile, back at “Facts Schmacts Central,” 60% of regular Fox viewers do not believe that most scientists agree global warming is even occurring. That’s occurring, mind you. When it comes time to adopt anti-warming measures or elect candidates who take climate change seriously, how will 6 of 10 Fox News viewers vote? So much for immediate action.

Comments from “The Truth About Fox News Viewers” at conservative Free demonstrate how Fox News’ dueling facts and “circle the wagons” mentality plays out in the world of the Fox faithful.

“Amazing. They are now claiming that showing skepticism of dubious claims indicates narrow-mindedness,” writes Fox viewer, Tribune. Through the magic that is Fox, consensus on climate change formed by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are reduced to “dubious claims” By Fox viewers.

“Yep, time to re-educate all the nonwatchers of MSM in Progresssssive [sic] Education Gulags!” says Leo Carpathian, raising the argument to neo-John Birch Society hysteria.

“We must support Conservative news outlets at every opportunity. The Marxists will continue to attack from every direction with every method possible,” writes Blam, proving that Joe McCarthy lives, and that Fox-brand paranoia is contagious.

Though the logic escapes me, a number of commenters point to Fox News’ comparatively large ratings as proof of its accuracy. I may be nitpicking here, but to me the only thing Fox News’ large ratings prove is that Fox misinforms a lot of people.

A news service pumping half-truths and nowhere-near-the-truths into the public consciousness 24/7 can’t be good for a democracy and its requisite informed electorate, can it?

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Americans don’t watch TV shows anymore. We watch TV commercials and promos with 5- to 8-minute segments of the actual show thrown in every now and then for entertainment value.

If you happen to miss any of the commercials, don’t worry; the networks have reserved the lower third of the screen for advertisers and the networks themselves to hawk products and coming attractions in “embedded crawls” while the actual TV show is in progress. There’s nothing quite so enjoyable and conducive to the television viewing experience as some damned thing wiggling and waving at you beneath the TV show you’re trying to watch.

If TV Guide were honest, its listing for “NCIS” would read:
Tuesday 8:00-9:00 PM on CBS:
Addiction Centers of America
And bits of “NCIS” squeezed into the top two-thirds of your screen every seven minutes.

By the time you get back to the program—after 5, 6, 7 commercials crammed into one single break—you’ve forgotten the plot line and the characters’ names. But it doesn’t matter anymore because you are now deaf from the hair-blowing volume of the ads. As you try to read the actors’ lips in a futile attempt to rejoin the story, your mind begins to wander back to the days when the viewer was considered a valued customer–not just a mark.

The Good Old Days

Commercial TV hasn’t always been this way. From the 1950s to the early ’70s, viewers, advertisers and the networks lived together in harmony. The implied message from the viewer: If you program good shows, we will watch them and we will tolerate a reasonable number of commercial breaks so you can earn enough money to program the shows and make a profit.

In a way, the arrangement represented a kind of mutual respect among all parties.

Back then, a typical hour-long TV show consisted of 52 minutes of actual show with eight minutes reserved for ads and promos. Generally, they would run two minutes of ads every 15 minutes or so. Quaintly, the show had the entire screen to itself.

Occasionally, the networks would cheat a little by cramming one or two extra ads into the hour. But that was OK because viewers frequently violated the unwritten agreement by leaving the TV to go to the bathroom or by going to the kitchen to make something to eat during one or two of the commercials.

For the most part, however, it was a win-win-win situation.  We got to see our shows, companies got to sell us stuff, and for a few dollars and an almost-solemn promise to “serve the public interest,” broadcasters got to use the people’s airwaves and make piles of cash.


Today, with the average hour-long show containing 16-21 minutes of ads, the odds are 1-in-3 that you’ll be watching something other than “CSI: NY” when you’re watching “CSI: NY.”

Hell, you could build a bathroom during one of today’s commercial breaks.

This is television — the major interface between corporations and the public, where you’d think media conglomerates and advertisers would at least try to show their best, least mercenary face. But no, by the time you’ve watched a couple TV shows (including the end credits which have been squashed over to one side, or run at mach-3 to make room for even more commercials), you feel like you’ve been walking down a carnival midway with the loudest, most obnoxious carnies in the world hollering at you about low insurance rates, full-bodied beer and erectile dysfunction.


Update: It seems our legislature is actually trying to do something about the loudness factor with its Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM). According to the Washington Post, the Senate recently voted “to require television stations and cable companies to keep commercials at the same volume as the programs they interrupt.” Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Charles Schumer co-sponsored the Senate bill. Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo was the champion of our ears and sanity in the House.

Of course, there are still “a few problems” to be worked out before this becomes law. TV bigwigs have been saying for years that keeping commercials at a decent level is a difficult technical problem.


If broadcasters are able to turn up the volume of commercials, they can certainly turn it down, I betcha. Anyone who has spent two minutes around audio gear knows that a little, inexpensive  device called a “limiter” or a somewhat more aggressive version called a “compressor” can keep any audio signal within a set volume range. I have both of these gizmos in my ancient-but-operational home studio, for Pete’s sake. There are also a number of fancier loudness mitigators on the market.  Britain has been using them to regulate the loudness of TV commercials in the UK for a while now; so can we.

Now that it looks like we’re about to take care of the volume problem, let’s take care of the volume problem. While Congress is in a frisky mood, it should escalate this people’s uprising by demanding a sensible limit on the number of TV ads. Something along the lines of the European Union’s 12 minutes per-hour limit would be a good starting point.

Hey, Americans might even start watching television again.

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My determination to find out why and when Republicans decided to lop off the “ic” from “Democratic” and begin referring to the loyal opposition as the “Democrat Party” led me to discover the minutes of a secret strategy session held by the Republican elite a few days after the party’s dramatic defeat at the polls in 2008.

Strangely, the minutes were written in verse.

A meeting was held in the town of DC
The Party’s elite were invited
There was Palin and Cheney and Sean Hannity
Their leader Rush Limbaugh presided
Rush called to the crowd, “We’re in trouble, my friends
We’re shrinking with each day that passes
We need new ideas for two thousand ten
Or the Dems will again kick our asses
We can’t argue issues – they win at that game
And just saying ‘no’ has grown old
Drowning them out makes us look quite insane
We need something clever and bold”
“How ‘bout a catchy new phrase?” Palin said
“That says what we’re really about
Like, ‘If you’re not worth millions you oughta be dead!'”
“Sarah, sit down!” yelled the crowd.
So they thought and they thought ‘til their heads throbbed with pain
You see, thinking – for them – was exotic
Then a pudgy guy called out, “Karl Rove is my name
And by George the Second, I’ve got it!”
He ran down the aisle like a man on a mission
And snatched the mic from Limbaugh’s hand
The people fell silent – when Rove speaks, they listen
He smiled a big smile then began
“That name, ‘Democratic’ is simply unfair!
It gives such an edge to our rival
As a name, sure it’s only a noun – fair and square  –
But the voters think it’s adjectival
It makes them sound more democratic than us
A typical liberal plot
The fact that they’re commies is hidden because
Their name makes them sound like they’re not
Well, I’ve got a plan that will end all of that
And recharge the great GOP
We’ll change ‘Democratic’ to just ‘Democrat’
We’ll chop off their ‘ic’ at the ‘T’”
The crowd was ecstatic, and shouted “Hooray”
“You’ve done it again, Mr. Rove
You’ve given to us a sure-fire way
To get back the voters in droves”
Yes, that’s how the “ic” was removed from our name
Believe it or not, you still hear it
It seems everyone to the right of McCain
Is completely insane, or darned near it
They’re down to just one out of five voters now
Soon it will be one of seven
And those who remain will be in Idaho
Storing food for Armageddon
So, when you hear “Democrat” Party these days
Please try to restrain your laughter
It’s just a Republican’s final hooray
On the way to his party’s hereafter
When not playing footsie with men in next stalls
Or at presidential talks, yelling
They campaign with tea-bagging Neanderthals
Who don’t like black folk…or good spelling
They ran Sarah Palin, they outed Ms. Plame
They green-lighted torture to our lasting shame
Compared to all that, the mere change of our name
Is not something to go to war on
We’ll just put our “ic” back where it’s always been
And hope for their sake that this childishness ends
Then as a gift to our Republican friends
We’ll shorten “Moronic” to “Moron.”


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Quote  —  Posted: November 23, 2009 in culture wars, Democratic vs Democrat, Exposing the Enthusiastically Stupid (and the Proudly Dumb), Fox News, How Come the Right Gets All the Jerks?, Republicans, Satire, tea party, Tea Party
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AHL cover fullWhen I was a kid, I used to have a hell of a time convincing some of my more conservative relatives that popular music was a worthy vocation for a thinking adult. “All that yelling and screaming,” they’d say. “You learn three chords on a loud, out of tune guitar, scream into a microphone and you’re a rock star.

“For God’s sake, you wanna make that your life’s work, boy?”

“Louie Louie,” they’d shout. “Sgt. Peppers,” I’d fire back.

I never would have told Uncle Louis, of course, but as I got older and began working six nights a week in nightclub cover bands, I too began developing a few doubts about this music thing. Especially after the night’s third rendition of “We are Family.”

But all I had to do during the drive home was crank up the first few bars of any album that had earned a permanent slot in my car’s CD rack (uh, cassette rack) and all doubt about the worthiness of making music vanished. If I could make music like that – music with so much skill, so much heart, smarts and honesty — I would consider my life well spent.

Jill Freeman’s exceptional new album, “A Handmade Life,” is my car’s most recent addition.

Truth is, this album sucked me in within the first few notes of the opening cut, “The Light that Leads Me There.” With only a strumming ukulele behind her, Freeman’s achingly pretty and heartfelt search for kindness and decency let me know that at the very least I was in for some fine singing and thoughtful poetry.

What I got – and continue to get (I’m listening to “Welcome to the Bonehouse” as I write) – is 54 minutes of masterfully written (Freeman), produced (Joel Wachbrit) and arranged (Freeman and Wachbrit) mini-adventures, featuring top-drawer performances by LA’s A-list players and vocal performances by Freeman that range from gorgeous to bawdy to unnerving, in a perfect melding of story-telling credibility and vocal technique.

It is not easy to categorize this music. Think guitar-oriented rhythm section with acoustic bass, violin, woodwinds, banjo, Uilleann pipes, accordion and percussion supporting amurdertown gp 4 color light-toned, expressive alto — all performing an alt-folk, jazz-tinged, Kurt Weill-ian version of Jungian interpretation of fairy tales.

Yeah, another one of those.

And no, I’m not kidding about the fairy tale part:

From Freeman’s website: “Fairy tales are like dreams, filled with deep symbolism about the human psyche. They carry the voice of our subconscious. I wanted to dive into those dreamy stories, swim deep, and see what I came back with. This album is the expression of what I found there.”

The result of Freeman’s Jungian dip with Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and other fantasists whose names and stories had, until now, been gathering dust in the pre-school folds of my brain, are some of the most compelling song-stories I’ve heard. Often dark, sometimes fun and funny, always clever and literate, Freeman’s words take us to places, people and things we used to know but probably haven’t visited in a while.


Walking on Glass what a big brave girl
Rags all gone and hair all curled
Those glistening shards on your tiny feet
Coulda cut you to ribbons on the cobblestone street
Coulda sliced a heel or lost a toe
But you did the Reel, even Do-Si-Do’d

Walking on Glass… Walking on Glass

-From “Walking on Glass”

Wizard of Oz:

Where once his empty brain was clear
It now was strained with stabbing fear
And jabbing, poking thoughts – a tear
Rolls down his blank expression

The Wizard placed pins in his head
Now, this will make you sharp!” he’d said
And so began what finally lead
To Scarecrow’s great depression

– From “Completely Unaware”

Little Red Riding Hood:

I love sitting
In my gramma’s front porch swing
We shuck peas there
And I listen to her sing

Oh her songs, they
Make me shiver as I laugh
Songs of young girls
Who are stolen on the path

 Songs of beasts
That devour them
Leaving nothing where they’ve tread
But a little bit of Red
A little bit of Red

– From “A Little Bit of Red”

Gliding easily from protagonist to omniscient narrator – often within the same tune – Freeman breathes life into these wide-ranging and varied stories and characters with energy and honesty – and in a few of the more macabre tales, with downright menace. Freeman’s light, airy approach to the lines below definitely pinned the needle on my Sweeney Todd-o-meter:

Oh, you came in then, with a maiden, fair
And you killed her with barely a snap
Then chopped her in pieces, they flew everywhere
Her ring finger fell in my lap

– From “Sweetheart My Dream is Not Over”

This song works so well on so many levels, “Sweetheart My Dream is Not Over” may be the poster child of why so much of this album works.

Based on a tale from the Grimm Brothers collection, “The Robber Bridegroom,” “Sweetheart My Dream is Not Over” is a tale about fear, sadistic murder and dismemberment. Of course, Freeman and crew begin the tune with the sweetest sounding pipes you ever heard and light guiro/tambourine percussion, playing at a brisk-ish three-quarter time.

Freeman joins the fun with…

Love, I dreamed that you lived in a lonely place
And we were to marry that spring
Well, I walked through your house finding nar’ a trace
Of friendliness there, not a thing

As the verse ends, an even sweeter piano arpeggio replaces the pipes while a bird warns Freeman’s protagonist about her fiancé, the guy with the knife–

… will cut you in two, then laugh as your blood drains away…

A light childlike chorus sung in unison to a lone piano and breath percussion raises the spook factor considerably.

Ashes on daffodils, ashes on leaves, ashes on innocent clover…

The first chorus ends with just Freeman and Sara Parkins sublimely strange violin–

But sweetheart my dream is not over…

–setting the listener up for the full band’s entrance and the blood-letting to come.

It isn’t just the track and vocal working against subject matter that make this cut so darned effective — it’s the surprise of it all.

This album is full of surprises: Parkins’ wonderfully demented solo and Steve Nelson’s snaky acoustic bass on this tune; the C-tuned guitar intro (was it Wachbrit or Freeman?) and Mike Nelson’s soaring clarinet in “Letters From Murdertown”; Debra Dobkins’ innovative, driving percussion; April Hava Schenkman’s mad voices and the, uh, unusual backing vocals in “Welcome to the Bonehouse”; Candy Girard’s wonderful reel-like fiddle on “A Handmade Life”; Freeman’s piano and spoken poetry in “The Nightingale”; Wachbrit’s rhythmic banjo in the chorus of “Eyes of Fire”… Hell, even the unexpected quarter-note rest after “…banshee” and before “…heart of hearts” in that same chorus makes me smile every time I hear it.

Of course, the surprises only work because the foundation from which they leap are so fucking solid. Wachbrit’s innovative and cohesive production and consistently fine guitar playing throughout, along with solid drumming and percussion by Dobkins, Robert Perkins and Dave Beyer , Nelson’s bass, and keyboards by Tommy Reeves and John “JT” Thomas firmly ground the songs as only fine players – fine players who like each other, that is – can.

Which brings me back to Freeman’s voice. Again, it’s the strong foundation of Freeman’s technical vocal skill that frees her up to give such artistic, expressive – and often unusual – performances. Jill Freeman is truly a singer’s singer –- pitch, control, crystal clearJilly-2 enunciation… and my lord, her vibrato. In the hands of a lesser singer, vibrato can be an evil weapon – think Ethel Merman or Axl Rose. But Freeman’s choice and control of her vibrato, whether wide and slow, narrow and quick or nonexistent always seems to be what the performance requires. I think I’ll write a textbook titled “Jill Freeman’s Vibrato” which would soon become a required primer in every voice class, if not a N.Y. Times bestseller.

Not to mention, how many singers in the land can rhyme “essential” with “pencil” with such command?

In every respect, Jill Freeman’s “A Handmade Life” is a triumph. Everyone involved with this project should be very proud, indeed. It is a work filled with the kind of intelligence and care that used to erase my doubts about the importance of popular music on my drives home from the club.

As I slide this CD back into my car’s rack, my only wish is that Uncle Louis and my naysayer relatives were still alive, taunting me with “Louie Louie.”

“A Handmade Life,” I’d fire back.

Hear what I mean about “A Handmade Life” at


Not really mine, but I thought it looked good. Thanks Wikipedia. I’ll post the real X-ray when I get it from my doctor.

That we had actually gotten to the hospital at the designated time made me a little nervous. Jessie and I hadn’t been on time for anything in thirty years, so the mere fact that we had arrived on the dot — at five-thirty in the morning, no less — reminded me how serious the next few hours would be.

The Kaiser pre-op area was an enormous, fluorescent-lighted room with at least 15 bed-cubicles situated along its perimeter. By my count, ten of these little cubicles were now occupied. In just a few minutes, ten souls in various states of disrepair, including your narrator, Russell S. Buchanan, would be cut open and — if all went as planned — repaired.

While we waited for them to come wheel me to the operating room Jess posed an interesting question. “Hey, how do you think they make sure they’re working on the right — I mean, the correct — side?”

Hmmm. The confusing way she asked her question, with the homonymic “right,” made the question all the more compelling. My left side was the target, of course. But how would the surgical team know that for sure before they started carving me up?

As I began planning my escape, my surgeon, Dr. Yakoub, entered the cubicle, introduced himself to Jess then signed his name under my left armpit with a black Sharpie. Whew.


Let’s back up a little, though. What brought me to this world of scalpels, gurneys and black Sharpies began in January with a persistent variation in my body temperature, including a slight fever. There was also a bit of a worry about the weight I’d been losing for about a year and a half. Even though I had shed about 30 lbs. over six months, the weight loss was somewhat more explainable and less concerning for a few reasons. We had purposely been eating smaller portions to lose weight over much of that time — Jess had lost weight too. Also, I had been walking my dogs religiously at 4:30 every day for up to an hour, up and down the calorie-burning hills around my house. Not to mention, I’m about to turn 64. If my dad’s “spindly shanks” — as my mom called dad’s legs during his autumnal years — were any indication, losing weight is just something male Buchanans do when they get old. There was also the comfort in knowing that my Anthem/Blue Cross doctor, who was aware of my weight loss, had given me a clean bill of health just two months before, after giving me a complete check-up that included a chest X-ray. Oops.

But the temperature fluctuation was another matter. I’d wake up many mornings with my thermometer reading 100. An hour later, back to my normal low of 97.7. Two hours later, 96.7. Then back up to 101. No cough, no shortness of breath, no other symptoms at all. I even bought a snazzy new digital thermometer to be sure the problem wasn’t in my analog one, which had probably been handed down through ten generations of Buchanans. I went to see my new GP at Kaiser, Dr. Slingenberg.

Based on my fevers and what the chest X-ray indicated was some wispiness in the lower lobe of my left lung, Dr. Slingenberg figured I had managed to develop a bit of pneumonia there. So the doc wrote a prescription for antibiotics and I went home.

As you might have guessed by now, that was not the end of the story. Dr. Slingenberg called a few days later.

“Hello, Mr. Buchanan. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but remember that wispiness in your chest pictures?”


“Well, I’d like you to have another chest X-ray. Something about that wispiness looked unusual.”

Unexplained weight loss, mystery fevers, lifelong smoker of cigarettes… I had hoped to live my entire life without hearing the words “you,” “chest,” “X-ray” and “unusual” uttered in one sentence by my doctor. But Dr. Slingenberg had just scuttled that hope.

Even with my cancer indicators, though, the chance of me actually having lung cancer was remote. No cough, no malaise, no cancer markers in my blood tests. Not to mention, nobody in my family — grandparents, parents or sister — had developed any type of cancer during their long lives. Cancer does not like my DNA, I kept telling Jess and myself… again and again.

In fact, the first time cancer seemed like a real possibility to me was right after my second chest X-ray. It was something about the way the tech spoke to me before and after the session — the way he said “good luck” after he’d had time to look at the pictures. Not only had there been a subtle change in the way he spoke, but his tone and transition sounded vaguely familiar. Then I remembered — it was the same way Dr. Slingenberg sounded during his last call about the wispiness. Both of these guys’ voices had become more intimate and personal — more careful and compassionate.

The second X-ray again showed signs of trouble in my left lung’s lower lobe and proved to be the healthcare equivalent of the umpire yelling, “play ball.” Batteries of tests were ordered — blood tests, breathing tests, CAT-scan — and, of course, my first bronchoscopy.

Imagine a colonoscopy. Now, imagine a little higher. Rather than inserting a camera in your rectum to examine your bowels, the camera goes into your mouth then down into your lungs. In my case, the bronchoscopy confirmed what the CAT-scan had indicated — and what my doctors had suspected — a mass about the size of a pecan was growing inside the bronchus of my left lung.

As an inveterate body abuser — eat-what-I-want, smoker, ex-dope fiend, former touring rock-and-roller (and all the sleepless nights and debauchery that suggests) — I believe it is a minor miracle that I had, until now, never experienced ill health of any sort, let alone serious ill health. In other words, I am a very grateful guy who would be the last person on earth to shake his fist at the sky and shout “Why me, lord?” I know darned well why. But at the same time I must admit that all this talk of cancer and diseased lungs was beginning to put me in a philosophical mood. I began thinking of shortcuts I might take that would complete the album I’ve been working on for the last three years. I mean, dying with 14 almost-finished songs trapped in my computer would have made me very cranky in the afterlife. I found myself reviewing my life a lot and began worrying about Jess worrying about me. Hell, I even worried about my dogs, and how distraught they would be — however briefly (squirrel!) — if the cancer killed me.

As it turned out, my morbid musings were unnecessary. Though they couldn’t be sure without biopsy — and biopsy of the mass would not be possible until its removal — Dr Yakoub and my pulmonologist, Dr. Drucker, were both confident that mine was a rare, slow growing, non-metastasizing (in my case) type of cancer known as a carcinoid, a type of growth that until recently was not even considered a cancer. Apparently, I had picked the right kind of tumor.

However, it did have to be cut out of my body. The date of my deliverance was set for April 14.


A few minutes after Dr. Yakoub signed the correct side of my chest, my anesthesiologist, Dr. Chung, peeked in and introduced herself. I sat on the gurney marveling at all the activity going on around me.

“Honey, I know it’s idiotic, but I can’t help feeling guilty about all this,” I said to Jess.

“Guilty about what?” answered a male voice on my right. It was Dr. Yakoub, whom I thought had left the cubicle but was only hidden by a computer cart.

Great, I thought. Not only was my surgeon about to be subjected to my useless guilt rant, but he also probably thought I had just called him “honey.”

“Well, here I am with lung cancer brought on by stupid life choices — namely smoking — and now I’m blithely expecting all these people to snap to and come to my rescue. It just feels wrong and irresponsible and unfair. Hell, I don’t even have any pain… ”

Dr. Yakoub cut me off as he continued typing away at the computer. “Oh, your carcinoid has nothing to do with smoking,” he said. “We’re not really sure why carcinoids occur.”

That’s the last thing I remember before partially regaining consciousness in the recovery room. According to Jess, I was fairly miserable when I awoke – lots of shallow breathing and grimacing. I remember being wheeled through the halls to my hospital room, where apparently, I insisted upon placing my oxygen mask on my forehead.

My four-hour surgery had been successful. My growth — or “friend,” as Dr. Drucker called it, was biopsied immediately after it was removed and turned out, in fact, to be a carcinoid — a blessed little carcinoid. Dr. Yakoub also found a touch of pneumonia in my lower lobe behind the mass, just as Dr. Slingenberg had surmised.

The six-inch gauze pad and two drainage tubes under my left armpit told me that the simpler, less invasive thorasocopic procedure that Dr. Yakoub had hoped to employ, which would have left me with two tiny holes and a much shorter hospital stay, had not been an option. Dr. Yakoub explained to me later that my tumor’s proximity to a major artery required him to go in the old fashioned way — through my ribs.

I spent four days in one of the many rooms of the post-op wing of Kaiser Panorama City, the same hospital that took my tonsils 50 years ago – my only other surgery and hospital stay. Sadly, they were in the process of tearing down the actual building of my tonsilectomy, but I got to see its gutted shell from a fourth floor window every day during my doctor-prescribed walk around the wing.

In just four days the post-op staff at Panorama took my already good opinion of Kaiser and put it in the stratosphere. Nurses, kitchen staff, on-call doctors, housekeeping — every single person I dealt with during my stay — was professional, upbeat, caring, smart and pleasant to be around. I now have an appreciation for nurses that borders on worship. These gals and guys on the fourth floor were constantly busy with patient medications, bathroom assistance, assorted emergencies, etc., but always came to my room right away when I hit that button. They even walked the floor with me the first couple of days. One of my fondest memories will be my petite Philippine/American nurse and me strolling down the corridor, belting out old Chi-lites and Commodores hits (she belted, I kind of grunted and winced), while I guided my IV tree with one hand and valiantly tried with the other to keep my butt from peeking out through my half-open hospital gown.

As a sworn enemy of America’s health-as-commodity, private insurer-based system and Anthem/Blue Cross survivor, I can’t believe I am now going to sing the praises of a health insurance company, but here I go: Ever since I joined Kaiser Permanente in December I have been in various stages of awe and admiration. The past month, with all my appointments, tests and such has only intensified my appreciation of this behemoth org.

I’m new at Kaiser so I’m still trying to figure out what makes this company so good at its job while others continue to fail so miserably. Of course, Kaiser’s one-stop shopping, with labs, diagnostics and doctors of all specialties located in one place is a godsend. With Anthem I’d still be waiting for my first X-ray, which, if approved, would likely be conducted at an imaging center twenty miles away at rush hour. Also, I assume one big reason my doctors Slingenberg, Drucker and Yakoub have been so clear and patient with me and so expert with my case is that with Kaiser handling the administration, traffic, marketing and other non-medical duties doctors traditionally loathe, Kaiser doctors are free to be healers. Well-informed healers, at that; according to my Internet research, doctors are often flummoxed by the very uncommon carcinoid. Not my Kaiser doctors, though. They were all on the carcinoid trail well before the bronchoscopy pictures all but confirmed the theory.

Overall, Kaiser seems to have hit upon a magical formula of super-efficient, digitally-driven healthcare administration combined with absolutely top-level employees. The computers take care of the pain-in-the-butt-but-important stuff, such as parking (digital readout of available spaces and their location) and blood-test traffic (take a bakery-type number at lab entrance and wait for your number to be called. I’ve yet to wait longer than 20 minutes, usually far less time). The employees take care of the actual healing and support duties along with their job of representing the organization to the patient and making the patient feel valued.


Well, I am home now. My carcinoid is probably in a landfill somewhere or may still be in Panorama City, getting to know my tonsils. I feel surprisingly good, considering that just nine days ago the good Dr. Yakoub opened me up, bent my ribs out of the way, cut through a few centimeters of my muscle, adipose and lung tissue and then sewed me shut.

At the risk of diminishing the wonderful sympathy I’ve been getting from Jess and the few others who knew about this thing, I must confess that the pain has been curiously minimal. Minus the hours after the procedure, which I really don’t remember very well, and the occasional attention-getting tweak from my drainage tubes, which were removed before I was discharged, the discomfort has really been much closer to annoying than excruciating. Granted, I was taking Percocet every four hours with an occasional shot of Dilaudid for four days, but even so I expected the pain to be much worse.

I’m glad it wasn’t.

The following is a letter and link sent to me by my old chum and wonderful Minneapolis composer, Mark Gottlieb — and my response.
Hi Russ — Check out the video and the incredibly callus manner he explains to the pink slipped worker how “…this will have an impact….”.
Even in their vocal anger there is a quiet and more subtle heartbreak.

I sent my US Rep Keith Allison, a fairly decent fellow a note suggesting such a move makes good sense if all their product remains in Mexico or south. But then asked that once Carrier Corp moves to Monterey, Mexico what % of their product will end up here.

Russ, I’ve probably sent several hundred letters, calls, emails to my reps and others. I should have saved every response and made a book.
It would have been the funnest and most depressing book .. all at the same time.
I don’t know how you keep at it without needing gallons of antacids.

Mark (really a more musical guy than political)

Hey Mark –

Well, isn’t this heart warming? This little Scrooge has the gall to scold the “class” for being too noisy after telling them he has pawned their livelihoods. This is what the corporatocracy looks like. Began in earnest with “Close-the-Pits” Thatcher and “Fire-the-Air Controllers” Reagan, maintained and encouraged by Clinton, then went into overdrive with Bush/Cheney

I knew things had changed when my unions last went on strike. As a member of long standing, I had seen my fair share of strikes and near-strikes so I was used to the adamant cries of poverty by producers — how much productions cost theses days, you actors are breaking us, blah blah blah. But from both sides I could always feel a sense of resigned inevitability, that there would ultimately be compromise and a deal would be struck.

Fast forward to the commercials strike of 2000. After a few years of trickle-down economics, free trade pacts, right-to-work and other union-killing legislation and, most importantly, our government’s abrogation of its anti-trust responsibilities that allowed and encouraged ad agencies to gang up with multi-nationals, like Seagrams and Sony, who had gulped down every film and production company in the universe, we members of SAG/AFTRA now encountered a monolith of power that saw us as ants at THEIR picnic. Compromise was out of the question. Management’s attitude toward us had morphed into something like, “How dare they ask for more money and better conditions? Don’t they understand that we are the King, and we do and pay what we want?” This was not a negotiating tactic — they meant it. Needless to say, the strike went on forever and was ultimately a failure.

The responsibility for all this, of course, lies with the American people — the chumps of the universe. As one of my favorite political writers put it, “Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.” Okay, I confess, that writer was me, but I always liked that line, depressing as it is.

Be well, my friend –


If you put on Ann Kelly’s latest CD, “Promises,” close your eyes and imagine what the owner of this rich, sultry voice looks like, your mind will probably conjure up a hi-res image of Kelly by the time you reach the first chorus.

Keep listening and the slinky horn lines, jazzy piano riffs and bluesy guitar under the voice will likely morph your Kelly mind-picture into something closely resembling the CD’s cover art – right down to her trench coat, puckered lips and the urban setting.Promises_front_cover[1]

Now you’re ready to experience the album as the multimedia event nature intended.

“Promises” is an album of mood music. It’s difficult to put the Kelly mood into words, exactly, but I know it has a lot to do with dry martinis, French perfume, Aston Martins and parties at Hef’s. With Kelly’s sensuous and often fearlessly emotive vocals setting the tone, “Promises” is mood music for grown-ups: urbane, sexy and expertly made.

The six-song, Mark Ross-produced EP opens with the upbeat “These are the Good Times.” Tight, infectious horn lines, a standout solo by guitarist Tim Pierce and Kelly’s light and confident delivery let you know you’re about to spend time with pros.

“Bluest Blue,” Kelly’s “Dear John” to a doomed affair, is the record’s hardest rocking track, featuring a credible, emotional read by Kelly, fiery leads by Pierce and some extremely ballsy and clever horn lines.

The up-tempo shuffle, “Move on Over,” delivers some of the strongest performances — vocal and instrumental — and some of the best lyrical turns on the CD. The song opens with Kelly’s scornful dissection of a gold-digger on the prowl: “…the pretty little parasite is looking for a host,” then passionately warns the host-to-be away from the vixen with …“better beware, there’s perfume in the air.” Kelly’s mix of worldly swagger, impish fun and rhythmic instinct nails this one.

Brandon Fields’ soaring tenor sax solo, Ross’ syncopated piano, playfully inventive horns and top-flight backing vocals by Janis Liebhart and Lynn Fanelli all conspire to make “Move on Over” as fun as it is musically rewarding.Promises__back_cover

Come to think of it, there is a refreshingly playful spark running through this entire album and everyone involved is obviously in on the grin.

Case in point: Lee Thornburg’s wah-wah trumpet intro (over scratchy needle-on-vinyl effect, no less) on “I’m Your Friend,” is not only a good example of the album’s wit, but is also one of the best bits of flutter-tonguing horn pathos ever blown. When Nick Lane’s trombone joins Thornburg later in the tune for a kind of mano a mano, New Orleans-style horn-orama, its fun is exceeded only by its masterful playing.

In “…Friend,” Kelly tries to extract commitment from a tentative lover with a whispered growl that is so damned sexy, you can’t believe she has to make her case at all. “You love me when it’s easy, when the slipper fits…”, sighs Kelly, then turns up the heat with “…I long for you to comfort me.” If this doesn’t work on the guy, I’m afraid shock therapy is the only answer.

On the slow bluesy title track, “Promises,” Ross’ dramatic string arrangement provides the perfect environment for Kelly’s impassioned vocal and Pierce’s dynamic and thoughtful guitar work throughout.

Which brings us to the final cut – the exquisite and eclectic “If You Only Knew Me.” It’s funny, just the other day I was saying to the wife, “How come nobody ever makes records with a reggae beat, a Montmartre accordion and a Duane Eddy guitar, featuring a Marlene Dietrich-ish vocal in English and French anymore?”

In this medium/slow, incredibly infectious loper, Ross has managed to combine these disparate instrumental elements in a way that feels so natural and easy you have to remind yourself you’re in uncharted territory. As interesting and inspired as this track is, though, it is Kelly’s performance that will stay with you.

One part “Three-Penny Opera,” two parts Piaf-Dietrich love child, this is Kelly’s most evocative read on the album. Purring such lines as “…now we begin the sweet taste of sin” and “…your foolish heart will know that I play for keeps,” in between the tastiest accordion and soprano sax lines this side of La Rive Gauche – well, let’s just say Kelly had me at bonjour.

Kelly’s uninhibited vocal approach, Mark Ross’ crisp production and innovative-yet-catchy arrangements plus ace work by some of the best musicians and singers in Los Angeles have demonstrated once again that having fun and making good music needn’t be mutually exclusive endeavors.

“Promises,” L.A.-based Ann Kelly’s sophomore effort, has just the right blend of fun, drama and musical expertise to recommend it as a highly enjoyable listen.

For samples of “Promises,” visit

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With Californians increasingly turning against capital punishment, political forecasters say the vote on Prop 34 — the anti-death penalty initiative — could be extremely close.

In September, the polls had Prop 34 losing by a wide margin. However, a new poll by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times shows the gap narrowing to just three percentage points — 45 to 42 percent.

When pollsters asked recent converts to the anti-capital punishment side what changed their minds, most cited capital punishment’s high cost and the increase in exonerations by DNA testing as major factors in their decision. If these many condemned people have been proven innocent, they reason, the judicial system is too imperfect to mete out such a final and permanent sanction.

The Debate

The death penalty debate has been raging for so long, most of us can recite the arguments chapter and verse by now. Deterrence, the cost, closure for victims’ families, eye-for-an-eye justice and the immorality of state-sanctioned killing are just a few of the ideas that have been screaming at each other for years, changing very few minds.

The imperfect system/too final penalty argument had also been cited by the anti-capital punishment crowd, but until recently was more theory than fact. This argument asked folks to imagine the torture of being mistakenly condemned and considered by society to be unworthy of living — to imagine themselves and their family in that hellish situation, marking the days off to the exact day of your erroneous-but-certain death — while the real killer remains at large.

The imperfect system argument, which often included references to overzealous prosecutors, ineffective counsel, railroading cops, mistaken eyewitnesses and faulty lab work was usually countered by the assertion that capital cases’ appeals and exacting checks and balances kept the innocent from being put to death.

Some even conceded that a very few wrongful deaths might slip by but considered the death penalty so valuable, a mistake now and then would be OK. However, I doubt these folks ever visualized members of their own family or themselves as potential death penalty martyrs. After all, people mistakenly charged with capital offenses, they reason, are probably criminals or lowlifes anyway, or they wouldn’t have found themselves in such an awful predicament.

Delbert Tibbs

I guess they hadn’t heard about Chicago seminary student Delbert Tibbs:

In 1974, Tibbs was hitchhiking in Florida when he was stopped by police and questioned about a rape/murder that had occurred earlier that night. Although Tibbs was some 200 miles from the site of the crime — the brutal murder of a man and the rape of the man’s girlfriend — and did not match the victim’s original descriptions of the assailant, the police took Tibbs’ picture. The photograph was then sent to Fort Meyers, where the victim identified Tibbs as the rapist/killer. Although Tibbs had an alibi, the victim’s ID and a jailhouse informant’s claim that Tibbs had boasted of the crime were enough to send Tibbs to Florida’s death row.

Fortunately for Tibbs, the informant recanted his testimony after the trial, saying that he had lied for the prosecution in exchange for lenient sentencing in his own rape case. The recantation and the contradictory identifications by the rape victim eventually led to Tibbs’ exoneration in 1977.

Warning: If an overzealous prosecutor, mistaken identification and lying snitches can convict a hitchhiking seminary student who was nowhere near the crime, they can convict anyone.

DNA Testing and Curtis McCarty

Then the 80s brought us DNA testing. Tales of death row exonerations began appearing more frequently in the news. Such exonerations as the 2007 Curtis McCarty case in Oklahoma had people rethinking their position on the death penalty.

After spending 21 years behind bars — 19 on death row — McCarty became a free man. McCarty had been convicted twice of murdering 18-year-old Pamela Kaye Willis. His first conviction was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct. However, the most damning evidence against McCarty from the first trial — proof that strands of hair collected at the murder scene were his — was presented at the second trial. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to die again.

In 1995, an appellate court upheld McCarty’s conviction but ordered a rehearing on McCarty’s sentencing. Again, Curtis McCarty was sentenced to death — three times in all.

Then in 2000, while under investigation by the FBI for submitting phony forensic results, Joyce Gilchrist, Oklahoma City’s forensic analyst, was asked by McCarty’s attorneys to re-examine the hair fibers. She told them the samples collected at the scene had been lost or destroyed.

Based on the investigation’s finding of numerous instances of fraudulent testimony by Gilchrist, McCarty’s lawyers got permission to perform DNA tests on sperm collected from Willis’ body. Negative results of that test, plus Gilchrist’s unreliable forensics persuaded a judge to grant McCarty a third trial.

Armed with results of the sperm test, DNA tests proving that fingernail scrapings recovered from Willis’ body came from a different man, and suspected fraudulent forensics, McCarty’s lawyers asked a judge to vacate the convictions and to drop all charges against their client.

In 2007, McCarty was freed.

Lucky Guy

Despite having spent over two decades in prison for someone else’s crime, McCarty is a lucky man. He had dedicated and able attorneys fighting for him. Additionally, McCarty’s case happened to catch the eye of the Innocence Project, a group of lawyers and law students at Yeshiva University who assist inmates with cases that could benefit from modern DNA testing. Since 1992, the Innocence Project has helped remove 17 people from death row.

Death penalty supporters may point to McCarty’s eventual exoneration as proof of the system’s infallibility. However, that conclusion seems to overlook McCarty’s good fortune. For example, analyst Gilchrist had testified in thousands of cases over twenty years, including a number of capital cases. It was sheer luck that suspicions of her perjury habit surfaced while McCarty was still breathing. Also, McCarty was blessed with lawyers who gave a damn — not all do. Finally, the Innocence Project — as dedicated and effective as they are — are only able to get involved in a limited number of cases. Fortunately for McCarty, his case happened to be one.

The Ultimate Argument

There have been previous death row exonerations — 140 since 1973 — but apparently that number (3.5 per year) fell within the acceptable range for death penalty supporters. It also supported their belief that the system works, however belatedly.

But with DNA testing, the number of exonerations has jumped to five per year between 2000 and 2007. For an increasing number of voters — nationwide and in California — that’s just too many people. They realize that in many of these cases, the exonerations were the result of advocacy from outside the system, advocacy that very easily could have been focused on some other poor soul while the wheels of “justice” rolled over a number of innocent people.

On the other hand, they reason,  life with no possibility of parole will keep killers off the streets for good, while allowing those wrongfully convicted a chance to fight their conviction if new evidence proves them innocent.


Remember how we used to argue about the death penalty? You said it was a deterrent; I said it was meted out unfairly. You said it saved money; I said it wasted money.

Then we began to see an increasing number of stories in the news about DNA-based death row exonerations facilitated by such organizations as the Innocence Project and we put our argument on hold.

Wonderful as those stories were, they left us with one very disturbing and inescapable question: If these many lives are being saved because of the efforts of outside groups with limited resource and staff, how many other innocent lives are going all the way to the gurney because the Innocence Project is busy saving somebody else… six, ten, 100?

We don’t argue about the death penalty anymore.

Congolese Child Soldier with “light arms”

[previously published at 7/15/2012]

Wouldn’t it be great if the arms-exporting nations of the world got together to sign an agreement banning the sale of arms to conflict zones, terrorists and murderous dictators?

Of course, the world’s largest exporter of arms, the United States, already has regulations prohibiting the sale of weapons to such people and places, but an international agreement could go a long way in limiting arms trade between nations that have few or no such regulations.

According to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, because American laws are already in place, such a treaty limiting arms sales would be asking far less of the United States than any other country. Signing the treaty would be “… a very small price to pay for an international agreement that helps keeps arms out of the hands of tyrants, terrorists and aggressor nations,” says Hartung.

With wholesale barbarity in such places as sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Syria playing out on the nightly news and the ever-present threat of international terrorism revisiting the United States, you’d think all Americans would support such a treaty — a treaty that would help bar the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Qaeda from the world’s arms bazaar.

Who could possibly oppose such a treaty?

A New Kind of Logic

Who, indeed.

The National Rifle Organization (NRA) is at it again — only this time, the “from my cold, dead fingers” folks are going global.

Despite the fact that the proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty would only regulate the transfer of weapons across international borders and has absolutely nothing to do with gun ownership or sales within the U.S., the NRA and its enforcers in Congress have mounted a campaign against the treaty that is as energetic as it is devoid of sense.

At the U.N. conference negotiating the ATT, NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre, told the conference that the treaty is “an offense to any American who has ever breathed our free air.” You gotta love him.

A letter to President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton signed by 130 NRA cheerleaders in the House of Representatives demanded that the treaty not include any restrictions on small arms or light weapons (you know, the AK-47 and other small arms that do most of the people-shredding around the world). The letter goes on to characterize the treaty as a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights.

Apparently, decades of success at blocking every common sense gun-control law proposed by legislators has taught the NRA to yell, “Constitutional rights,” whenever the words, “gun” and “regulation” appear in the same sentence — whether it applies or not.

When LaPierre accused President Obama of trying to take our guns by NOT proposing any gun control legislation, as LaPierre did in his speech to Florida’s Conservative Political Action Conference in September, I just figured LaPierre was having a bad logic day. After all, Obama, hardly a gun-control crusader, has repealed more gun laws in four years than George W. Bush did in eight — proving everybody can have bad logic days, now and then.

But now, with his full-throated and nonsensical opposition to the ATT, I’m beginning to wonder if LaPierre and the organization that keeps America awash in Saturday night specials and armor-piercing ammo just might be a few rounds short of a full clip.

Exporting Misery

By now we have gotten used to the NRA and its intransigence. We’ve learned to ignore its wild-eyed rhetoric and even LaPierre’s gross disrespect of the President and the presidency. We may even feel a little sorry for those members of the gun set who have bought into the NRA’s self-serving and paranoid fantasy pitting freedom-loving Americans against an evil, despotic government bent on seizing everybody’s guns.

Apparently, we also have learned to live with the 30,000 shooting deaths per year, a figure made possible, at least in part, by lax gun laws and NRA lobbying.

But letting the NRA loose on the rest of the world is just plain mean.

Fearing NRA reprisal, American politicians could very well vote this treaty into history’s dumpster and as a result, put more and more guns into the hands of the world’s bad actors, and, of course, more and more bullets into bodies.

As Americans, we deserve the NRA and the misery caused by the most liberal gun laws on the planet. We are the ones who keep electing politicians that march to the NRA’s tune.

What did the rest of the world do to deserve the NRA?

For a lighter look at the NRA, check out:    “Paranoid and Packing” plus repost of “Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet: NRA Cries Foul”

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[Originally published in]

In a political landscape full of pundit-speak, spin and dancing politicians, it’s often difficult to cast a truly informed vote. So it’s good to know you can still get politics served up straight, bold and unapologetic in Texas.

I’m speaking, of course, about the brand new 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party. Epic in scope, breathtaking in its lunacy, this platform covers everything from evolution to space exploration and is a clear, unambiguous glimpse into the worldview of today’s Republican Party — a must-read for all who might be thinking of voting in that direction this November.

The Texas GOP platform reminds you that today’s Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party. It’s not even his father’s Republican Party. As you read it, you’ll feel as if you’re being transported back in time to an age when scientists were considered evil sorcerers, women needed men and/or the government to decide how to manage their lives, and education was something you did to children, rather than for them.


This is how the new GOP believes kids should be taught about theories of evolution and global warming:

“We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is [sic] produced.”

Sounds reasonable enough. But I wonder if it would be OK with Republicans if teachers teach their students that it was, indeed, only after many scientific challenges to both of these theories that scientists accepted them as the likely answers to the questions, “How did we develop as a species?” and “Why is the Earth getting so darned warm?”

Though today’s Republicans are big on challenging evolution and man-made global warming, it seems they don’t want children to challenge much of anything.

“We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

As Texas Christian University professor of economics, John T. Harvey, writes in his excellent piece at Forbes,

“… do they really and truly believe that teachers and school boards across the State of Texas are designing curricula specifically aimed at training children to challenge their parents?”

Actually, there are probably very few people who know exactly what the Texas GOP means about critical thinking “undermining parental authority” but they do manage to interject a little paranoia into the old “father knows best” adage.

Harvey continues:

“Were we to implement such a policy, we’d have to be certain that we had already identified the concepts and values that were ‘correct’ (whatever that really means). Even a cursory reading of their platform makes it very clear that this is precisely what Texas Republicans believe and what those concepts and values are. This begs the question, who is really aiming to force their beliefs on our children, Texas schools or Texas Republicans?”

If kids do have the temerity to think critically in class, though, Texas Republicans know what to do.

“We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.”


Or how about Republican plans for women — more specifically, women’s bodies?

It may be approved by the FDA, considered safe and effective by the American Medical Association and available at your local Walgreen’s, but Republicans know better.

“We oppose sale and use of the dangerous ‘Morning After Pill’.”

In their ongoing attempt to send abortion back to its back-alley roots, Republicans want to place themselves firmly between women and their doctors.

“We support legislation banning of abortion after 20 weeks gestation due to fetal pain.”

Once again, the GOP knows better than them smart aleck research scientists, who find no scientific evidence to support such legislation.

The platform does make one sensible pronouncement regarding women, however.

“We strongly support women who choose to devote their lives to their families and raising their children.”

It’s just that the platform declares no such support for women who choose to do anything else.


Americans are gradually warming to the idea that gay and lesbian folk are as good, bad, decent and indecent as we heteros. We are also beginning to recognize the cruelty, impracticality and unfairness of marginalizing this large segment of the American population. But, Republicans see it a bit differently.

“We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.”

Homosexuals have been part of the human family ever since Peking Man found another Peking Man attractive. Not to mention, same-sex attraction occurs in every species, from gut worms to primates. Doesn’t that qualify homosexuality as one of God’s “unchanging truths?”

Anyone thinking about homosexuality with a clear, bias-free mind understands that it is neither a choice nor harmful to society. Who would choose to spend his or her life fighting for rights we straights take for granted? And, can anyone explain to me how on earth I am negatively affected by another person’s fondness for members of his or her own sex?

Voter Beware

There are many more equally nutty views espoused in the platform, including support for returning the dollar to the gold standard, abolishing income tax in favor of a national sales tax, abstinence-only sex-ed, gutting public education and, of course, deregulation, deregulation and more deregulation. But this is what Republicans stand for today. By purging moderates and independent minded conservatives from its ranks, the Republican Party has managed to reduce itself to a thick soup of right wing extremism that even Ronald Reagan would have a hard time recognizing as his beloved Grand Old Party.

It seems every presidential election is hyped as “the most important election in history.” This time, however, it may very well be. And that makes the Texas Republican Party Platform equally important.

Read it, get to know it and then… run screaming back to the Democratic Party. Your nation will thank you.

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Drawing Credit: Freakout Nation

[previously published at 3-14-12]

A conversation I had with an old friend yesterday should strike fear in the hearts of all Democrats.
“Hey, what’s with this Obama guy?” my friend asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied, trembling. I was reasonably sure if I heard one more usually apolitical friend spouting Republican talking points my brain would explode.

“You know, I used to like Obama,” my buddy explained, “but he wants to force everybody to buy health insurance.”

Obama the Tyrant

Fighting the urge to bury my teeth in his neck, I calmly explained to my friend that the mandate for everyone to purchase insurance was necessary to get insurance companies to agree to insure people with preexisting conditions. It was also the only way Obama and the then-Democratic majority in the legislature could get insurance companies to stop un-insuring people when they get sick and/or leaving them high and dry when their medical bills got too big. In other words, in order to persuade the insurance companies to operate their businesses in an ethical manner, the government had to promise them a whole bunch of new premium payers — that is, every adult in the country.

I looked my buddy in the eye and said, “Obama’s mandate was the only politically viable way to prevent 46,000 Americans per year from dying of lack of insurance and to reduce American bankruptcies by 60 percent — without denying insurance CEOs their polo ponies and summers in the Hamptons, of course.”

“Oh,” said my friend, clearly surprised by my pushback. “I guess I don’t really know that much about it.”

Repeat the Lie Long Enough…

In fact, until that moment, the only thing my buddy “knew” was that “this Obama guy” was tyrannically forcing Americans to buy insurance — whether they wanted it or not. Why? Who knows? It’s just the kind of thing tyrants do.

I suppose after months of Republican presidential contestants on TV repeatedly characterizing Obama and “Obamacare” as the Devil and the Devil’s work, respectively — repeatedly characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a government takeover, job killer and fast-track to Socialism — it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the rhetoric managed to ooze through a few Americans’ “Wait, this makes no sense” barriers. The expected overturning of the law by five-ninths of the Supreme Court probably didn’t help much either.

But here’s the kicker: My intelligent, talented and usually reasonable friend also happens to be a quadriplegic. Due to a decade-old medical condition, he was one of those unfortunate, uninsurable souls with a preexisting condition when he fell and broke his neck three years ago. Needless to say, his finances were quickly reduced to zilch by subsequent operations, therapy and round-the-clock care. So today, Medicare and Social Security pay for his board and care at a convalescent/rehab facility in the Valley.

That my friend’s opinion of Obama and the Affordable Care Act — a law with such dramatic influence on his life — had been informed by the ravings of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry is disturbing. That these soundbites might even have influenced his vote this November and prompted him to side with the party that has repeatedly vowed to straight razor the very safety nets that are keeping him alive — well, I’m hoping that our little talk will keep him from leaping off that particular bridge.

Citizens United

But if Romney, Santorum and friends were able to plant the Obama-as-tyrant idea in my friend’s head with just a few months of Republican primary news coverage, what will a sustained campaign of Citizens United-fueled, anti-Obama TV and radio commercials do?

This will be our first presidential election since the landmark Supreme Court decision made a present of our democracy to corporations and other special interests. It will be interesting to see how democracy holds up.

Already, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are planning to spend $500 million to defeat Obama. Who knows how much money large corporations and other “one-percenters” are planning to contribute to the same end?

The Great Equalizer

Although Mitt Romney may very possibly be the least appealing, most gaffe-prone, no-there-there presidential candidate in modern American history, there’s no telling what kind of equalizer a half-billion dollars shouting, “Obama is an American hating, communist-fascist-despot-sissy-foreigner” over and over again for six months might turn out to be. Toss in a sluggishly recovering economy, a disappointed left and a weird, vestigial racism simmering in a disgraceful number of American hearts and it’s easy to see that this election will be no cakewalk for the president.

The big question in our new Citizens United world is how on earth do real, individual human beings fight back?

I don’t know.

From the first few bars of Ann Kelly’s new EP, Petals and Thorns, you know you’re dealing with professionals here. This slick, six-song package features Kelly’s expressive vocals supported by top-flight playing from a group of L.A. studio stalwarts. All in all, this pop-jazz/adult-contemporary outing is a testament to the value of musicos who know what the hell they’re doing.

The CD’s lyrical themes of love lost, love soon to be lost, lost love’s revenge and loneliness are confidently and credibly handled by Kelly, whose voice and phrasing bring to mind a deeper Diana Krall. From her dusky, blue-smoke delivery of the bluesy “She Dances Alone,” to the I’m-wise-to-you-buster vibe of “Who do You Think You’re Foolin’?” to the snarky irony of the infectious, up-tempo “It Must be Good to be King,” Kelly’s performances strike the right notes of assertiveness, playfulness and hurt — a femme fatale undermined by a vulnerable heart.

My favorite cut, the Exotica-tinged “Between the Lines,” is Kelly and band at their mood-setting best. Kelly’s laid-back phrasing and honest, intimate delivery gives the listener a near-voyeuristic glimpse into a doomed affair. Perhaps, more than on any other cut, this mid-tempo gem is where the players demonstrate their top-notch recording chops. In lesser hands, two guitars, a tenor sax and keyboard all trying to lend color could easily sound like an explosion at a pawnshop. But here, guitarists Tim Pierce’s and Tim Kobza’s exquisitely light and echoed fills and Duane Eddy-esqe twang seamlessly compliment and play off of pianist Mark Ross’ elegant, jazzy runs and saxist Danny Pelfrey’s nuanced flavorings, which blossom after the second chorus into a beautifully lyrical and thoughtful solo.

Another standout, the jazzy “Undone Without You,” has Kelly shredding the boundaries of cool. Playful, yearning and above all, sexy, Kelly’s plea to an AWOL lover has an alluring Peggy Lee-meets-Garbo (on the low notes) quality to it that begs the question, who in his right mind would leave? Complete with walking double-bass, octave guitar, libidinous saxophone and what may go down in history as the coolest, most understated piano riffing ever, “Undone Without You” is as fun as it is supremely musical.

If there is a problem with Petals and Thorns, it’s the record’s tendency toward sameness on repeated listening. Of course, one listener’s sameness is another listener’s consistency of sound, but personally, on the next Ann Kelly effort I’d like to hear Kelly open up her higher register a bit more and maybe add more variation to the design and instrumentation of the production.

But, all picking of nits aside — this EP is a thoroughly rewarding listen. With strong, catchy tunes written by Kelly and Ross, Ross’ crisp, uncluttered production and arrangements, and standout performances by pros who obviously still love music, Petals and Thorns is a collection of well conceived and extremely well executed songs that should get lots of radio action. A solid first outing from L.A.’s Ann Kelly.

 Hear samples of Petals and Thorns at

Submitted by Monk

I was an eyewitness to the carnage. I lived on Bonanza St, just two blocks from Pacoima Junior High School. I was only seven at the time and I went to Terra Bella Elementary next door. The two schools shared a common chain link fence about 10 feet high. On that particular day, I was home with a cold.

The whole house shook from a sudden and violent explosion. My mother had heard the whine of the falling plane and ran out screaming, “Oh, my god, oh my god, I think a plane just crashed!”  We looked out the front window and saw a mushroom cloud of thick black smoke rising over the schools. Nuts and bolts and debris began to rain down on the roof, but nothing that was large enough to cause any damage. For some god-forsaken reason, my mother scooped me and a my baby brother up and we headed for the sight of the explosion. Hundreds of mothers in the neighborhood were also running toward the school, all of them screaming as we all descended on the horrible sight.

We entered the playground through the faculty parking lot and beheld a twisted, scorched and oil-soaked landscape. Wreckage was still on fire, strewn everywhere, having slammed into fences, backstops, basketball hoops, and, of course, children, who lay everywhere, burned and bleeding from gashes too grisly to comprehend. One teacher held a boy’s intestines from spilling out as the boy screamed in agony, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” Teachers were everywhere, trying to comfort the injured. Off to one side, a large plane engine lay embedded 15 ft. down in the earth, smoldering with an acrid fume. Over by a demolished backstop, a burned and mangled crewmember was still strapped to a chair, his death stare looking out at the carnage that was all around. There was a huge part of the plane lying in the small church parking lot that bordered the east side. To the west, several of the elementary bungalows that skirted the playing field, mine included, were pocked with gaping holes where debris had torn through the fence and into the rooms.  A boy, his hair covered in hot oil, walked blindly along the fence. By fortune, all of those classrooms’ students were assembled on the other side of the school; had the children been there, the death toll would have been much higher.

The police and ambulances finally arrived in droves, driving on sidewalks and front lawns to reach the school because the roads were clogged with frantic parents. I still remember one woman, horrified nearly senseless, walking through the wreckage screaming “My baby, my baby, where is my baby?” The police took charge and emptied the playground of mothers and gawkers. A perimeter was established and we all stood outside the barriers for several hours, watching ambulances and police and news trucks come and go. Women and men wept openly and copiously.

[The above account is a companion piece to “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened)”]