Archive for January, 2010

Moving Daze

January 27, 2010 1 comment

Well, it’s that time. Saying goodbye to New York as my permanent residence, packing up my stuff and making the move back to ol’ DC. Having moved quite a lot over the past decade, this is becoming old hat. But it never loses its charm.

The part I hate most is not the outgoing and incoming piles of boxes, the memories of old photos and collected crap that suddenly transports you to a distant past, the manual labor, not having your stuff for a couple of days, the logistics, the phone calls to utility companies, or getting temporarily unplugged. It’s the cats.

Anybody who knows cats understands how attached they become to their environment. Move a friggin’ table to a different corner of the room and they get all bent out of shape. Putting them in carriers and into a mini-van for five hours, then introducing them to a whole new place is like the end of their little worlds.

During my first move with this particular batch of felines some ten years ago, one of them, Bernstein, got so freaked out he spent 34 days under a comforter on a couch. Thirty-four days! I kid you not. I had to put water in his mouth with a syringe several times a day so his little kidneys would keep working. I had to move the kitty litter box next to the couch so he wouldn’t have to venture more than a foot from his nest of psychotic insecurity. I was getting ready to bring in a psychiatrist. On the 35th day, he jumped to the floor and started walking around like nothing had happened. Little weirdo.

So, I have a plan. Under no circumstances, can they see even a glimpse of the movers. Ever. Nor can they even get a whiff of the carriers until the very last moment. They’re going into the bathroom with a blanket, their food and the litter box. And when it’s time to go, since they won’t go to the carriers, the carriers will come to them. I have a similar plan for Washington, but in reverse. A year from now they’ll never remember any of it. Their brains are the size of small tangerines.

So here comes the disconnect part. Time-Warner Cable comes today and pulls the plug on the World Wide Web.

We’ll see you all next week from Washington, D.C………

Categories: Animal Life, Digital Life Tags: ,

Message to OBL

January 26, 2010 2 comments

So Osama Bin Laden has sent us another message. As his face appeared on the TV screen, I got a real sense of irritation and annoyance. I am not scared of him. I am bored to tears with him. He is so lame. Like a pesky fly you can’t get rid of. Anyway, he’s sent so many messages over the years, but I’m not sure anyone has sent one back.


Yo, Bin Laden:

I don’t know your exact location these days, but wherever it is, I’m hoping it’s damp and uncomfortable. Got your latest message. I see you are taking responsibility for the “underwear” bomber guy who tried to take out a Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit.

I don’t know if you noticed, oh brilliant one, but the attack was a masterpiece of incompetent failure. Your genius buddies at your Yemen franchise designed a faulty fuse that caused your brave would-be bomber to pretty much burn his own genitals beyond recognition. As if that were not pathetic enough, you apparently feel the need to elbow your way into the limelight by trying to take credit for this abysmal failure.

Everybody knows you had nothing to do with it. We know you are in a cave or some crappy little hovel in western Pakistan, running to the next super-duper-top-secret-location every time one of our predators drops a bomb within ten miles of you. With your every waking hour dedicated to self-preservation, I don’t think you could coordinate a two-car parade, much less an intricate terrorist plot.

I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve dropped your recent concerns about Iraq and Afghanistan and are back to the Palestinian thing. You used to be angered about U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia. Your message discipline is all over the place. You are not rallying the great masses, you are boring and confusing them into a stupor.

Anyway, worst of luck to you and your independent franchises around the world. May your nights be long and really scary and the wind always in your face.

Categories: Terrorism Tags: , ,

Escapism: NFL Picks Finally Come Through!

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The home teams won. The #1 seeds both won (for the first time in 17 years). After going 1-3 in the divisional round, we’re finally at the .500 mark. The monkey at the typewriter has finally spelled something right! And I’m sticking with the Colts to beat the wonderful Saints in the Super Bowl on February 7th in Miami.

NFC Title Game

It was a sloppy, crazy game but watching that 40-yard field goal attempt soar through the uprights in overtime was a tension-filled handful of seconds of great drama. Even without a rooting interest, it was a neat and emotional moment to watch Saints fans celebrate in that blinding blizzard of confetti.

Sports seem like silly games children play in the face of horrible disasters like Katrina. But sometimes they do wrap people up in a unifying cause- so for the eternally long-suffering residents of New Orleans, this really does mean something. That this moment of triumph would occur in the same building that was once home to so much misery makes it all the more compelling and poignant.

Do they make them any tougher than Brett Favre? It’s a shame he has to live with that interception that ended the Vikings’ end-of-game drive that appeared to be aiming a dagger at the heart of the Saints. Aside from the sight of the field goal attempt clearing the uprights, the other iconic moment of the game was watching Favre barely able to limp off the field, his face grimacing in pain. Even as they worked on his leg on a stretcher, you knew he’d be coming back. Please, sports reporters, stop asking him if he’s going to retire now. He doesn’t know and whatever he says won’t matter anyway until August.

AFC Title Game

By the end, it was hard to believe the New York Jets had actually led the game 17-6. They were doing all the right things; sacking Peyton Manning, connecting on long bombs for touchdowns. But the Colts are one hell of a football team. They might be going down as one of the greatest teams of all time right now if they hadn’t started resting players in the final two games of the season and lost them both. Then again, if they had sought perfection and gotten key players injured, they might not be going to the Super Bowl at all.

There’s an obvious story-line to the championship game and it will be an awkward moment for former Saints quarterback and New Orleans hero, Archie Manning, as he watches his son suit up against the team he led for so many years. If the Saints lose, it will no doubt feel cruelly ironic that their hero begat the guy who beat them.

I don’t see how New Orleans bests Indianapolis in the Super Bowl, but for now, once inundated Bourbon street, will be host to a non-stop two-week party. Check that; could be more nearly a month’s worth of debauchery.

If the Saints pull off the miracle, records for the world’s longest running street party will fall easily, for Fat Tuesday, the key day in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday and that would be nine days after the Super Bowl- on February 16th.

I can’t even imagine the hangover.

Categories: Sports Tags: , ,

Barack- Love the New You- But You’re Wiping Out My 401K

January 22, 2010 1 comment

I heard the new populist version of President Obama at a Town Hall meeting in Ohio today.  I remember this guy.  Looks amazingly similar to a fellow I saw campaigning about a year and half ago.  Just might work.  He’s a very attractive candidate.

One favor though, Mr. President.  Is there any chance you could give these fiery anti-Wall Street speeches sometime after 4pm, ET? 

You see, everytime CNBC shows you talking about sticking it to the banks, those crazy guys on the floor of the New York stock exchange put in sell orders.  Lots and lots of sell orders.  The market has now lost 400 points in two days and it seems to coincide precisely to those moments you’re speaking live on cable TV. 

I love you, but you’re killing me, man.  My 401K is taking a beating. 

Next passionate populist-guy town hall speech- 4:30pm.  Please?  No, seriously.

The Benefits of Owning Your Own Congressman

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Having already written a serious assessment of the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on political advertising, the claim by some that it will result in the wholesale purchase of lawmakers got me thinking about what it might be like to have one completely in my pocket.

This will never happen, of course, because I don’t make nearly as much money as Exxon, so the chances are next to zero. But one can dream.

For starters, and to make me feel better about myself, I think I would have him introduce legislation that would declare my birthday, October 29th, as National Robert Garcia Appreciation Day. If this passes, the following year I would go for a National Robert Garcia Awareness Month.

I think it might also be nice to have a bridge or a highway named after me. Many of my tax dollars have already gone toward the construction of such infrastructure so I think it’s only right. But why stop there? I would also want one train station and one airport. And they should be ones that I use, so I would have him propose renaming La Guardia and Union Station. I don’t necessarily expect that resolution to pass, but you have to take a strong initial bargaining position. If we end up with a small, municipal airport and perhaps the tiny little BWI train station, I could find this acceptable.

Then I’d have him introduce an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would contain a provision that would exempt Robert Garcia from all federal income taxes. How cool would it be to actually keep the gross amount you see on your pay stub?

I also want a farm subsidy. Farmers, you know, are often paid to not grow certain crops. Though I am technically not a farmer, it is a well-established fact that I do not grow corn and I’d like to be paid for that. Because this seems such fertile ground (forgive the pun), going forward, I would point out to my Congressman that there are several other agricultural products I also do not grow like wheat and soy beans.

And then there’s the whole area of research. I would be more than happy to initiate studies on certain important topics like the psychological benefits of attending sports events and concerts. Or perhaps, the effects of sunshine on flies which might require travel to places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. A few federal grants in the research area would go a long way toward improving the relationship between me and my Congressman.

I could go on and I will. But, regrettably, only in my dreams.

Victory for Principle and the Power of Money

January 22, 2010 1 comment

The Supreme Court’s decision that overturns 60+ years of established law limiting corporate dollars for the funding of political advertising is an important one with a lot of nuance.

It involves a very real principle. But the true winner is the power of money, seen by a 5-4 majority of the court, as a vehicle for political expression worthy of 1st amendment protections.

First off, this helpful guide from the Washington Post:

What’s out:

— A 63-year-old prohibition on corporations using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.
— A prohibition contained in the McCain-Feingold Act that bars issue-oriented ads paid for by corporations or unions 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.

Still in:

— A century-old ban on donations by corporations from their treasuries directly to candidates.
— The requirement that any corporation spending more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air a campaign ad covered by federal restrictions must file a report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1,000 or more to the ad’s preparation or distribution.
— The requirement that an ad include a disclaimer stating who is responsible for it, if the ad is not authorized by a candidate or political committee.

Judicial Activism

It’s safe to say, I think, that the conservative majority that overturned a lot of established law in this area took a pretty activist approach. This was not a narrow decision. Considering the general mantra from conservatives about strict interpretation of the law and respect for precedent, this ruling really does seem to turn that premise on its head.

Chief Justice John Roberts, anticipating this argument writes, in essence, that any decision that’s “right” trumps the principle of leaving established law alone. He maintains that if  it were taken to its extreme, “…segregation would be legal, minimum wage laws would be unconstitutional and the government could wiretap ordinary criminal suspects without first obtaining warrants.”

Ok, there’s some logic there. But this is not in the same league as segregation and wiretapping. The idea that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals does not strike me as running to the rescue of the oppressed. But there is a legitimate principle at stake here.

The ACLU and the NRA

The American Civil Liberties Union filed amicus briefs in favor of the winning argument in this case. The ACLU believes that all speech is protected, including speech (specifically, a political documentary that attacked Hillary Clinton) that is funded by corporations. The National Rifle Association takes the same position. I don’t know how often these two organizations agree on anything, but I think it’s rare, and in this case, interesting. There are a lot of constitutional experts who would normally be labeled as “liberal” who applaud the decision because, in their view, free speech trumps all. I’m not sure this is as a “right vs left” issue.

The Effects

Is it really the end of the world as many are hysterically crying out? Individual corporations have historically not wanted to get specifically and overtly into partisan politics because they’re sensitive about alienating consumers. Their trade associations have no such concerns. And corporations will contribute to those groups so their economic interests will be represented and they will produce lots and lots of ads.

Unions, of course, have also just won the same rights as corporations, so they too, will get to spend what they want on political advertising. I don’t know how this plays out in regard to partisan politics. I’m not convinced every corporate cause is necessarily a Republican or conservative one. Democrats have been known to seek corporate dollars too. In fact, it seems more likely that traditionally progressive labor unions are more predictable in their partisan patterns and favor many of the liberals who are howling the loudest about the Supreme Court ruling.

But I can see that a company that profits with less environmental regulation, like power and oil interests, just might be inclined to spend lots of money on candidates who want to weaken environmental laws. Insurance companies would do the same for candidates who oppose important aspects of health reform law. And the fear is that there will be back-room deals in which candidates will literally sell their positions in exchange for critical advertising dollars from corporations or the trade associations representing them.

A Clouded Conclusion

I think this was a win for free speech, but a technical, possibly Pyrrhic victory. It certainly puts a dent in the notion that a conservative Supreme Court bases its philosophy on strict adherence to settled law. It is likely to come at the cost of ever billions more dollars and their influence infecting the political process.

But then, are we really so naïve as to think money isn’t already a huge factor in politics? A study by the University of Maryland finds that U.S. House candidates spend 34% of their time raising money.  It’s the same for the Senate.

In a report from a consortium of interest groups favoring public financing of elections, Former South Carolina Democratic Senator, Fritz Hollings, notes that Congressional recesses have grown exponentially since the 1960’s- specifically so politicians can go out and raise money:

In February it used to be Washington ’s Birthday and one for Lincoln’s. Now we’ve combined them so we can take a week off to raise money. There’s Easter week, Memorial Day week, Fourth of July week and the whole month of August. There’s Columbus Day week, Thanksgiving week and the year-end holidays. While in town, we hold breakfast fundraisers, lunch fundraisers and caucuses to raise funds.”

So now there will be more money for politicians to fight for- on top of the mountains of cash already in the game. The biggest effect of the court ruling may well be increased public cynicism about the integrity of representative government.

Most folks just don’t earn enough money to buy themselves a Congressman. They couldn’t afford it before the court ruling- and they won’t be able to after it.

Class Politics and Bad Campaigners

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, I know, there are levels upon levels of meaning in regard to the results of the Massachusetts election Tuesday. Health care angst, populist anger over the economy, rebellion against incumbents, a harbinger of a coming Tea Party tsunami, blah, blah, blah. No, my interest in this is totally without substance; it is completely juvenile.

It’s akin to the fascination of watching a combination blooper reel/car accident. It’s the political version of the guilty pleasure of watching America’s Funniest Videos, when a daredevil bicyclist falls on his ass or a skateboarder eviscerates himself on a pole.

Aside from all the momentous implications of the Massachusetts race, watching bad campaigns- really, really bad campaigns- is like happening on a bad car accident; not pleasant to see but irresistible to watch as you drive by.


Such was the insanely, hilariously wretched campaign of Attorney General Martha Coakley. Those who followed this know all about the Curt Schilling incident, in which she claimed to be joking when during a radio interview, she said the Boston Red Sox World Series pitcher of bloody sock fame was a Yankee fan. Schilling shills for the G.O.P. on a regular basis so it was expected he would shoot back and he did- with a vengeance. “But never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could…”

Then, of course there was Coakley’s defensive response to a question about running a lackluster campaign: “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ Something the victorious Scott Brown did.

About 20 years ago, when he was head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I got to know former Boston Mayor, Ray Flynn- a true Massachusetts pol. Ray understood the nature of retail politics in the Bay state. Not only would he have shaken hands in the cold outside Fenway Park, he would have gone into one of the nearby bars, shaken hands and drank them all under the table until 2 in the morning then gotten up three hours later and run five miles, shaking more hands while he jogged.

We need not go into detail about the week-long vacation Coakley took after her primary victory December 8th. Nice message there about your electoral engagement.

New Jersey

Last year, there was the strange and dismal campaign run by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, another race that left political pundits desperately trying to read tea leaves. Here’s what I wrote about it last November:

Living in the New York/New Jersey market, I’ve been subjected to a heavy dose of the Corzine ads which have been just awful. Basically, they’ve featured unflattering video and stills of Chris Christie making the following case against him- don’t vote for him, he’s fat.

Anyone who’s ever read any recent studies on obesity in this country can tell you this was not a smart move. What the hell was the Corzine media strategy team thinking? Let’s appeal to every thin, latte-drinking, white-wine sipping blue-blood in New Jersey and really piss off people who like to eat Double Whoppers with cheese!

Those Bubba visits to McDonald’s during the Clinton years were a lot more politically astute than most people realize.


Another politician who goes down in the annals of bad campaigners was Kathleen Townsend Kennedy as she hopelessly sought to become Governor of Maryland back in 2002. She once bragged about hiring people who speak “Hispanish.” In the closing days of the campaign, she was speaking at a Maryland college and completely forgot where she was, invoking the name of another nearby university as chronicled by the BBC eight years ago:

At a recent key campaign event, Mrs. Townsend forgot the name of the university she was appearing at and tried to recover by recalling a previous gaffe.

“I’m so sorry, but I could never tell the difference between a touchdown and a football,” she said – a reference to the time she said the Baltimore Ravens had scored a football.

Interestingly enough, in all three of these races, the Republican candidates positioned themselves as “regular guys.” The contests were all quite similar to the dynamic of the Kerry-Bush Presidential race of 2004; Ivy League patrician versus Texas good ol’ boy.

I hate to say this because it sounds so quaint, but more often than not, especially in states like Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, all of which have a large, down-to-earth, blue-collar quotient- sometimes it really does come down to who you’d rather have a beer with.

Note: Democrats are, indeed, not the only bad campaigners. As a dear colleague has reminded me, George H.W. Bush ran a horrific Presidential campaign in 1992 exemplified best by his clueless performance at a grocery store scanner in which he was amazed at the new-fangled technology and tipped off that he’d never shopped a day in his life. And he was bested by possibly the best “regular guy” candidate in history- Bill Clinton. One of the rare moments when it was the Democrat who was the “normal” guy and the Republican who was seen as out of touch with everyday folks. That, in fact, may have been the campaign in which it became the M.O. forever more that all candidates studiously memorize the average price for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.

Categories: Politics Tags: ,

What a Wonder Drug

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

We all agree smoking is terribly bad for you.  So, apparently, is taking this smoking cessation drug called Chantix that you see advertised on TV all the time.  Do people actually listen to the side-effect warnings on these commercials?

The drug manufacturer, Pfizer, apparently has some very worried lawyers.   Perhaps it’s the two warnings that were issued by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008.

The Chantix commercial I was watching is a testimonial from a kindly, slightly meek 50-something guy who appears to be sitting in a garage workshop of some kind in his home.  He’s shining up motorcycle parts and attaching them to his Harley.  As the commercial continues and the health warnings start popping up on the screen, I become aware that it’s just possible this man’s family has purposely locked him up in the garage to keep him from being a danger to himself and others.

Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while taking or after stopping Chantix.  If you notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior, thinking or moods that are not typical for you, or if you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, stop taking Chantix and call your doctor right away. Talk to your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems which can get worse while taking Chantix.

Ok, so there are a few mental side effects.  Uh, physiological ones too:

Some people can have allergic or serious skin reactions to Chantix some of which can be life threatening. If you notice swelling of face, mouth, throat or a rash stop taking Chantix and see your doctor right away.  Tell your doctor which medicines you’re taking as they may work differently when you quit smoking. Chantix dosing may be different if you have kidney problems.  The most common side effect is nausea.

And then, for good measure, back to the creepy psychological effects:

Patients also reported trouble sleeping and vivid, unusual or strange dreams.  Until you know how Chantix may affect you, use caution when driving or operating machinery.

The 50-something guy in the garage, I notice, is not technically operating machinery; he just seems to be adding parts to it.  He pronounces that his 14 year old son is very happy he has quit smoking. In fact, he repeats later in the commercial that his whole family is happy he quit smoking.  I begin wondering what kind of people these are who seem to favor trading off a few more years with crazy ol’ Dad for putting up with hostility and agitation and the possibility he may off himself.

But- wait- there’s more.  A few additional items from Pfizer’s Chantix web site add some disturbing detail you don’t hear in the TV spot.  Turns out the skin reactions include swelling, redness and peeling of the skin.  And the allergic reactions can include swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing.  In addition to nausea and sleep problems there’s also gas, constipation and/or vomiting.

Also, a few additional details on the psychological issues:  On top of “hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts,” there’s also “anger, panic, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia and confusion.”

Chantix- the wonder drug!  Here’s one anti-testimonial in New York magazine from a guy who knows first-hand about the effects of Chantix.

Lawyers appear to be getting increased business- or at least they’re trying to.  The firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi has an article on their web site that also mentions Chantix patients have reported serious car accidents while on the drug. They add psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to the mental effects.  They offer an 800 number through which they will be more than happy to represent you in any possible legal proceedings.

Yes, smoking is very, very bad, but if your family decides it’s your time to quit and hands you a bottle of Chantix, race into your garage, slam the door, set up a barricade and start working furiously on your Harley so you can make a clean getaway.  This appears to be one cure that for “some people” is way worse than the addiction.

Categories: Culture Tags: , , ,

Escapism- My NFL Picks Go Down in Flames

January 18, 2010 2 comments

Well, it won’t be the Cowboys and the Chargers in the Super Bowl. Did I forget to tell you that to have any chance of winning, you’re supposed to take my picks, then do exactly the opposite?

Well, I got the Colts right, predicted the Jets/Chargers game would be close and I did say the Jets were dangerous because of their defense and their running game. But I also thought the Chargers would prevail. I mean, their kicker, Nate Kaeding, hits his last 20 field goals in a row and then can’t hit the broadside of a barn, missing THREE times??? Sheesh.

As for the NFC, I completely underestimated the home field advantage in the domes of New Orleans and Minneapolis. The 12th man really is a factor. Live and learn.

As for the Cowboys/Vikings- Minnesota did to Dallas exactly what I thought Dallas would to do Minnesota. They harrassed Tony Romo all game long and never really pressured Bret Favre all that much. And how about that kicker, Shaun Suisham, huh? Genius personnel move there by the Cowboys to pick up the Redkins choking specialist. The two 1st half field goals he missed were like a dagger in the heart of all Dallas fans. Your Washington bretheren know just how you feel. He’s a really great kicker as long as it’s not a meaningful game.

The Vikings defense apparently comes to life at the Metrodome. Wish I had known that. They finished 9-0 there for the season. But their next venue is the Lousiana Superdome.

The Saints rose to the moment after losing their last three regular season games in a row. They were terrific in their total demolition of the Cardinals.  Looks like the 13-0 Saints are back and the 0-3 Saints were just a mirage.

Picks for Next Sunday

So given my warning in the lead paragraph of this story about my great prognisticating skills, I offer the following as a public service:

I’m going for the Saints and their insane and loud fans to offer a big assist in getting New Orleans past Minnesota next Sunday. You know what that means: Go for the Vikes.

I think the AFC championship game will be close and I give the edge to the Colts. New York Jets fans rejoice!

Colts beat the Saints in the Superbowl.  Should be a great game between the Jets and the Vikings.

Categories: Sports Tags: ,

One Small Victory in Haiti

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Two year-old, Redjeson Hausteen Claude, has been rescued from the rubble of his own house in Port-au-Prince.  These moving photographs were taken by Gerald Herbert of the Associated Press who was in the right place at the right time.  In the larger photo on top, Redjeson had just been reunited with his mom.

Here are the first few paragraphs of Graham Keeley’s account from The Times of London:

He must be the luckiest little boy in Haiti.

After two days trapped beneath the rubble of his own home, two-year-old Redjeson Hausteen Claude was rescued this morning.

The toddler was clearly shocked as he was pulled free by a joint Spanish and Belgian rescue team. But a broad smile spread across his face when he came face to face with his parents, Daphnee Plaisin and Reginald Claude.

Dramatic photographs captured the moment when Félix del Amo, a Spanish mountain rescuer and diver, is seen pulling the terrorised child from a collapsed house. Óscar Vega Carrera, a Spanish firemen, also helped to get Redjeson out of the rubble.

A much needed heart-warming story in an otherwise heart-wrenching situation.

Donations are also coming in like gangbusters to every relief agency under the sun.  $8 million alone just from text messaging.  The good people of the United States and the world are responding to this situation in an unprecedented manner.

Categories: Haiti, Media Tags: , ,