Friday, August 31, 2007

Princess Di, ten years later

Another one of those things I can't quite figure out is the amount of media attention given to the life and death of Princess Diana even today, ten years after her death. The British, understandably, are having a big celebration today, but interest in all things Di remains at a high level for many people around the world. (I myself debated for some time this morning whether to post this, and add more fuel to the fire.)

I have nothing against Princess Diana myself, just that she served as another example of becoming famous by being in the right place at the right time. Born into an aristocratic family, she secured lifetime fame by marrying into the British Royal Family, that anachronism to end all anachronisms. Over time, she became one of the world's most glamorous women, she earned the respect of millions by telling the Queen where to get off (something that would have led to the gallows in another time), and the tragic circumstances of her death made her a near-mythic figure. In her defense, she lent her reputation to some good causes, such as AIDS research and the banning of land mines, and if we make celebrities out of the likes of Paris Hilton by the mere fact of their being born, we should give some respect to those who use their celebrity status to do some good in the world.

Without all that media attention, though, perhaps she could have gone back to a more normal life, remarried, and maybe found genuine happiness. The saddest thing about Princess Di was that her celebrity status played a large part in the circumstances of her death.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Next time, close the door

Kids, help me with this one. I'll agree that it's not the best child-rearing practice to have sex while your three-year-old son watches...

A Granite City couple has been charged with having sex while their 3-year-old son watched.

Madison County prosecutors on Friday charged Glen Hall, 30, and Cassie Hall, 31, with sexual exploitation of a child, which is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

...nor is it very smart to go to the police and tell on yourself (doubtlessly resulting from the loving couple having some sort of argument)...

Granite City Police Detective Robert Patrich said the allegation came to light when Cassie Hall made a report to police. He declined to elaborate on why she went to police.

When asked about a motive, Patrich said: "I can't answer that. Don't know that reason."

He added, "It was a different one for me."

...but $75,000 bail apiece and a possible five-year stint in jail seem a bit harsh to me. Far stupider acts are committed in broad daylight every day, some even by the people who purport to run this country.

UPDATE (9/2): Pretty much as I called it in the comments. Cassie Hall says she was raped. The Granite City Police Department doesn't agree.

Simon Pretty loses his fight

Over the weekend, Simon Pretty lost his fight with leukemia. My condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Start the week off right

So who cares about a old washed-up guitar picker like Ted Nugent anyway? Truth be told, the Nuge laid down some pretty solid licks in his day, and was a helluva showman to boot, though as the years passed, the showmanship began to overshadow the guitar playing. (Over the weekend at WTWC, a fair amount of debate ensued over the artistic merits of Mr. Nugent, or the lack thereof.)

Here's your assignment to get ready to take on the world this week. Brew yourself up a nice strong pot of coffee, then come back here to your machine. (If there's any crankheads out there, I disavow all knowledge of your activities.) Warm up with that first cup or two and some vintage Deep Purple. "Fireball" is a bit of an oddity in that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore stays in the background. Groove along to Roger Glover's bass and let Jon Lord's manic organ shoot through you. And dig those crazy dancing kids!

Now that you're good and warmed up, get another cuppa joe and deal yourself Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades". Be careful not to hurt yourself while you're banging your head on the monitor.

You're now good and warmed up and ready for Uncle Teddy in his prime. I saw Ted for the first time during this period, and now, due to the magic of YouTube and the internets, you too can discover why they called him the Motor City Madman. Click the link for this classic performance of "Motor City Madhouse" (they won't let me embed this one), and if you've followed my instructions, you'll be nice and wired and ready for some primal screams of your own!

Now go out there and seize the day.

(I am not responsible for speeding tickets, or if you get arrested for inciting a riot.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Nuge goes berserk

Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar, "This Machine Kills Fascists". Ted Nugent wants to take Guthrie's advice literally, except that the Nuge is gunning for Democratic Presidential candidates.

Ted Nugent is one of the greatest guitarists rock has produced. He is also a fucking idiot.

I don't want to hear any more about the Dixie Chicks after this.

(Crossposted at Watching Those We Chose).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wedding day

I get little pleasure in writing angry screeds about George W. Bush's misbegotten foreign policy there days. To me, the above photograph conveys more than a month of my bilious typing on the subject ever could.

Photographer Nina Berman spent two years traveling the country photographing Iraq War veterans. She originally took the picture of these newlyweds for People magazine; the editors instead chose a more festive shot from the reception.

The bride, Renee Kline, 21, is dressed in a traditional white gown and holds a bouquet of scarlet flowers. The groom, Ty Ziegel, 24, a former Marine sergeant, wears his dress uniform, decorated with combat medals, including a Purple Heart. Her expression is unsmiling, maybe grave. His, as he looks toward her, is hard to read: his dead-white face is all but featureless, with no nose and no chin, as blank as a pullover mask.

Two years earlier, while in Iraq as a Marine Corps reservist, Mr. Ziegel had been trapped in a burning truck after a suicide bomber’s attack. The heat melted the flesh from his face. At Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas he underwent 19 rounds of surgery. His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and a face was constructed more or less from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been.

Berman assembled her photos, with accompanying interviews, into a book, Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq in 2004. She has also created an exhibit currently on display in New York.

(Thanks to MJS at Corrente for originally posting this photo. Crossposted at Watching Those We Chose.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Today's chuckle

Something else from the inbox. I'd ordinarily save something like this for the weekend, but we're training a new guy at work and we can't show him our bad habits...

When NASA was preparing for the Apollo Project, it took the astronauts to a Navajo reservation in Arizona for training. One day, a Navajo elder and his son came across the space crew walking among the rocks. The elder, who spoke only Navajo, asked a question.

His son translated for the NASA people:
"What are these guys in the big suits doing?"

One of the astronauts said that they were practicing for a trip to the moon. When his son relayed this comment the Navajo elder got all excited and asked if it would be possible to give to the astronauts a message to deliver to the moon.

Recognizing a promotional opportunity when he saw one, a NASA official accompanying the astronauts said, "Why certainly!" and told an underling to get a tape recorder.

The Navajo elder's comments into the microphone were brief. The NASA official asked the son if he would translate what his father had said.

The son listened to the recording and laughed uproariously. But he refused to translate.

So the NASA people took the tape to a nearby Navajo village and played it for other members of the tribe. They too laughed long and loudly, but also refused to translate the elder's message to the moon.

An official government translator was summoned. After he finally stopped laughing, the translator relayed the message


Monday, August 20, 2007


Lindsay Ferrier is a local writer who runs a fine blog called Suburban Turmoil, which those of you familiar with the mommyblogger genre may already know about. She also writes a weekly column for the Nashville Scene, the closest thing we have around here to an alternative newspaper. Recently Ferrier wrote about her friend Elizabeth, whose Busymom blog is fairly successful in its own right:

My friend Elizabeth is the quintessential Nashville mom. She works at Vanderbilt, has three kids in Catholic school and spends most of her fall and spring weekends on the soccer fields. But while she dresses and dyes and drawls just like all the other mothers I know, she’s actually hiding a secret that would stun most of her friends and neighbors: Elizabeth is an Internet superstar.

Most of Elizabeth's friends have no idea she blogs, and she's not sure that she wants them to know:

Offline, though, she worries about the conclusions her colleagues might draw if they discover her secret. “People would probably think I was a bigger weirdo than I actually am,” she says. “I think about it every now and then, especially when I want to tell someone in 3-D about something cool that happened to me as a result of my blog, but, there’s no good way to tell them about it.”

It seems that a lot of bloggers, including myself, find that their family and friends either don't know or don't care what they do online. It's almost as though we've formed some sort of secret society unknown to those who don't blog. My wife knows I have this blog, but she doesn't understand the point of spending so much time communicating with "strangers". She reads my writings once in a blue moon. My parents bought their first computer a few months ago, but haven't figured out how to turn it on yet. (Seriously - they're waiting for me to make my next trip home so I can show them what to do with it.) My father-in-law, an indefatigable e-mailer, has no interest - "I don't want to monkey with no damn internet". I've told a few of my friends about Pole Hill, but they've shown no interest. I have one real-life friend who spends a lot of time online; a retired Marine, he spends nearly all his time on milblogs and gaming sites. No one I work with knows of this blog, for reasons I've explained elsewhere.

I really don't think that's a bad thing, though. I'd just as soon the people I know in real life weren't interested in my blogging activities. Part of it is, like Elizabeth, I don't want them thinking I'm weirder than they already think I am. Mostly, though, it's because I don't want to feel like there's always people looking over my shoulder when I write. I feel I'd have to watch every word carefully if I knew my friends and family were reading. It's an odd thing, but in some ways I feel I can be more open here, writing to people I have yet to meet in real life, than I can be with most of the people I see face-to-face every day.

So that's our topic of the moment. Do your family and friends know you blog; if they do, do they read it? Do you feel there's things you can't write because of it, or couldn't write if they did read your blog? If your friends and co-workers found out you were a blogger, would it make you feel geeky? Can you tell your online friends things you can't tell your friends in real life? Just wonderin' how y'all approach these issues.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Scoring the candidates

This online poll showed up in my e-mail the other day. The way it works is that the poll questions ask you your opinion on a number of issues, and weights them by how important they are to you. When you are finished, it gives you scores for all the Presidential candidates. The higher the score, the closer he/she is to your own personal views.

I wasn't too surprised by my scores. Dennis Kucinich came out best with a 74, followed by Mike Gravel with 64. All the major Democratic candidates lumped together: Edwards 45, Obama 44, Richardson 41, Clinton 40. Ron Paul was the only Republican to get a positive score with 20. All the other Republicans were in negative numbers, with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee at the bottom of the pack.

The 2Decide organization, which is sponsoring this poll, also is keeping track of which candidates are the respondents' top preferences. Surprisingly, Dennis Kucinich is the top choice of those taking the poll so far. (I did some checking around, and I could find no connection between 2Decide and the Kucinich campaign.) It's likely safe to say that this poll has circulated around Democrats more than Republicans thus far, but it does seem to show that Kucinich is not nearly as out of step with the views of the average Democratic voter as the media and the major candidates would like you to believe.

2Decide has also created a chart that you can use as a quick way to compare where all the candidates stand on a number of issues. Check this stuff out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Merv Griffin

The Hill notes the passing of Merv Griffin, talk show host/lounge singer/entrepreneur of sorts, who died Sunday at 82.

Frankly, Griffin's natural talents never impressed me much. He started out as a big band singer, and even had a major hit in 1950 with "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts", but his voice was at best passable. His talk show, which ran in one form or another for 24 years, was mostly a staid, conservative sort of entertainment that grew more dated as the years passed. To his credit, though, Griffin was a decent interviewer who would often host guests that the other shows of the day wouldn't touch, such as Muhammad Ali and transsexual Christine Jorgensen.

Griffin made a fortune as the creator of two game shows, Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune, that to this day are staples of syndicated programming. That, to me, was the remarkable aspect of Merv Griffin's career. Who among us could have figured that giving the people answers and having them come up with the questions was an idea that could make you rich? Or, when we were bored sitting around playing Hangman, how many of us thought that you could put it on TV and it would make millions? Was Griffin always in the right place at the right time? How many of us have been in a similar place, yet we were not astute enough to realize it? Was it just a matter of Griffin's being well-connected? Merv Griffin was no more innately talented than you or I, yet he died a billionaire while we're still drawing hangmen on sheets of notebook paper, wondering if we're going to have any money left after paying the bills. Those are the questions I find most intriguing as I ponder the life of Merv Griffin this morning.

UPDATE: David Bender has written an excellent tribute to Griffin at Huffington Post. I've got to give ol' Merv a bit more respect now:

It was during the run of his CBS show (1969-1972) that opposition to the Vietnam War reached its highest point. Merv continued to book controversial guests like Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali, despite the network's constant pressure on him to remain "balanced." He received a memo that said, "In the past six weeks, thirty-four antiwar statements have been made on your show and only one pro-war statement, by John Wayne." Merv fired back immediately, "Find me someone as famous as John Wayne who supports the war and I'll book him."

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Tuesday night, Barry Bonds hit his 756th career home run, breaking one of sports' most hallowed records. No one cared.

Such a thought would have been inconceivable to me and my neighborhood friends growing up. Before cars, before girls, perhaps before Almighty God Himself, there was baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were our local heroes, even though they were suffering through a long mediocre stretch in those days. Many summer days were spent gathered at Whitehead's Field, where we learned to chop home runs over the creek that cut right field short. A deep blast to center would bring an immediate end to the game, as it would land in the tomato patch and bring Old Man Whitehead out of his house cursing and shaking his fist: "Youse damn kids! Gidt oudt! Gidt oudt!!!

When we didn't have enough guys for a game we studied the numbers. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. Ty Cobb had 4191 hits. Lou Gehrig played in 2130 consecutive games. Walter Johnson struck out 3508 batters. We bicycled down to the corner store to buy our cartons of Pevely Orange Drink and our baseball cards, where we would learn more mundane trivia concerning the likes of Dick Drago and Denis Menke. I knew the stats of benchwarmers like Pepe Frias like the back of my hand, because it seemed that every pack of baseball cards I bought in the summer of '74 had one of Frias' damn cards in it.

We had some new numbers to learn that summer. That was the year one of our local heroes, Lou Brock, set a record by stealing 118 bases. Then there was the home run record, held for decades by the one and only Ruth, the Sultan of Swat. When we were little, our dads, uncles, older brothers and cousins figured Willie Mays, who they all swore was the greatest player they'd ever seen, was the man to break the record. But age would take its toll on Mays, and he fell just short. Meanwhile, nobody was paying much attention to Hank Aaron, because he hit .300 with 40-some home runs every year, as he had done before any of us kids were born, as long as anyone could remember. Perhaps the most consistent hitter the game had ever seen, you could set your watch by Henry Aaron.

Suddenly people realized that all those 40-homer seasons were piling up, as Aaron first surpassed 600, then 700, career home runs. Hammerin' Hank opened the 1974 season on the verge of breaking Ruth's record. The whole world seemingly waited in anticipation. There were only the three networks back then, no ESPN, no dozens of local satellite channels, no 24 hour-a-day sports talk radio to distract with analysis of NFL draft picks or NASCAR strategy. Stock car racing, anyway, was just something that drunken good ol' boys paid attention to. When Aaron connected for his record-breaking 715th home run, it was one of those pop-cultural moments that everyone who was around back then can remember where they were and what they were doing.

By the 90's, though, things had changed. A pair of crippling player strikes had sapped baseball of much of its interest. More people now considered football to be their favorite sport. A slew of all-sports cable channels popped up showing everything from pro wrestling to Australian rules football. Baseball was just another niche sport on TV. Worst of all, fewer young boys were running down to the neigborhood field with bats, balls, and gloves, for their parents feared that child molesters were lurking around every corner to snatch their kids off the streets.

Baseball had faced hard times before, notably after the 1919 season when eight Chicago White Sox players conspired with gamblers to fix the World Series. The "Black Sox Scandal" shook baseball's reputation to its foundations, and it took Babe Ruth's unprecedented slugging to restore the game in the hearts of America's sports fans. Ruth hit 54 homers in 1920 to shatter the single-season mark, and in 1927 he would push that figure to 60 home runs. This mark stood until 1961, when Roger Maris raised it to 61 homers, stirring controversy in the process as Maris played a season that was eight games longer than Ruth's. Maris hit his 61st during one of the extra games, and the baseball commisioner declared an asterisk fixed to Maris' record to denote that he required the longer season to break the record.

Following the 1994 strike, which caused the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years, baseball once again turned to the home run for salvation. When play resumed the next year, home runs began flying out of ballparks in unusually great numbers. Rumors flew that the composition of the ball had been altered so it would travel farther when hit. Others noticed the new ballparks were smaller than the ones they were replacing. Some people lamented that pitching had become a lost art. A few people noticed that some ballplayers were unusually muscular, but figured that improved conditioning regimens were responsible for the increased muscle mass.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa typified the new breed of slugger. In 1998, the two players staged an assault on Roger Maris' single season record that restored fan interest in the game. The story almost wrote itself, as a better contrast between two men couldn't be found. The Cardinals had the taciturn McGwire, arms as big as tree trunks, who hit his homers, showered, and went home. The loquacious Sosa played for the arch-rival Chicago Cubs, and he never seemed to lose his smile as he joked with reporters and signed autographs for the kids after games. The 1998 season ended with McGwire setting a new record with 70 home runs, Sosa not far behind with 66, and baseball getting a much-needed shot in the arm. Since both men were established sluggers prior to the strike, no one seemed to think anything unusual was afoot. A few remarks about McGwire's humongous forearms aside, most fans simply believed that they had raised their games to a higher level.

Barry Bonds, the greatest hitter of his generation, observed these things, and he was not amused. By 1998, Bonds had been a superstar for over a decade, and already had amassed stats good enough to get him into the Hall Of Fame. Despite his success, Bonds felt he lacked respect, and felt he deserved the attention received by his slugging contemporaries. He was particularly jealous of Mark McGwire, with some justification: Bonds was a superior all-around ballplayer, while McGwire's skills, apart from his ability to hit a baseball further than almost any other human being, were at best average.

Bonds' desire for attention was handicapped by two things: a surly personality which resulted in an uneasy relationship with the baseball writers, and by his decision at the peak of his career to play for the San Francisco Giants, the team which his father Bobby starred for in the 70's, and also the team of his godfather and hero Willie Mays. Giants' home games started too late for fans east of the Rockies to follow, and by the seventh-inning stretch, most of the rest of America was in bed, thus causing Bonds to spend much of his career laboring in relative obscurity. Few outside the West Coast regularly witnessed his feats at the bat, on the basepaths, and in the field, but all America heard of his temper tantrums. Barry Bonds, with the twilight of his career approaching, desired to be remembered for the ages, and he resolved to do so by becoming the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen.

By this time, baseball fans had added a new word to their lexicon - "androstenedione". In an interview following McGwire's record-breaking season, the Cardinals' slugger admitted to using the drug, an over-the-counter steroid, to increase muscle mass. Although banned by the NFL, steroids were legal in baseball at the time, and after McGwire's interview, rumors began floating around that steroids were the reason behind the increased home run output of the last several seasons.

Around this time, Barry Bonds began spending a lot more time in the gym. The trainers he worked with were familiar with various types of steroids. Bonds figured that anything that was good enough for Mark McGwire was good enough for him. Soon, baseball fans saw a new Barry Bonds.This Bonds was buff, muscular, with hulking forearms capable of driving a baseball deep into San Francisco Bay. At the age of 35, when most hitter's skills begin to decline, Barry Bonds began hitting home runs at a pace the world had never seen. In 2000, he hit a personal best 49 homers, one less than Sosa's league-leading 50. The next season he surpassed McGwire's three-year-old record by clubbing an unheard-of 73 home runs.

Strangely, though, the adulation given to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when they were setting slugging records was not forthcoming to Barry Bonds. Storm clouds of suspicion were gathering over the game of baseball. Fans whispered at the ballpark speculating which players were "juicing" and which players were not. Perhaps it was just too soon for the record to be broken - Ruth's and Maris' single-season records had each stood for over 30 years. And Bonds' reputation as baseball's surliest, most tempermental player had never helped with the fans. Barry Bonds told his friends that some racist fans simply couldn't bear the thought of a black player holding a record that had always belonged to a white man.

The next season, pitchers started to avoid Bonds like the plague. Nevertheless, in 2002 Bonds hit 46 home runs and led the Giants to the World Series despite rarely seeing good pitches to hit. Suspicions about baseball's power surge continued to grow. Bonds' name began to be associated with BALCO, a Bay Area laboratory involved in the manufacture and distribution of steroids. That year, former major leaguer Ken Caminiti, who in 1996 hit 40 home runs and won the MVP award after a decade of being better known for his glove than his bat, admitted that steroids were responsible for his increased production in his later years. He then went on to allege that half the players in baseball used steroids. Two years later, Caminiti suddenly dropped dead from a heart attack, further underscoring the dangers of steroid use.

In 2003, Bonds hit 45 homers and won his third straight Most Valuable Player award. The career record for home runs held by Hank Aaron was coming into sight. Toward the end of the season, federal agents raided the BALCO facilities and arrested its owner for distribution of controlled substances. The feds asked the company's head for a list of those he had distributed illegal steroids to. On the list was the name of Barry Bonds.

By 2005, the steroid issue had become too big to ignore. That spring, retired slugger Jose Canseco rocked the baseball world with a tell-all book that described, among other things, how he and McGwire would shoot each other up when they were teammates with the Oakland A's in the early 90's. Congress demanded a hearing on the effect of steroids on the sport, and several of baseball's prime suspects were brought in to testify. Jose Canseco sang like a bird. Sammy Sosa made a typically glib statement about how he had never broken any laws. Mark McGwire, his physique noticably smaller than in his playing days, faced Congress with the same stoic manner which he used to handle the sportswriters, until he nearly broke down while reading a prepared statement in which he said that answering further questions would implicate his family, his friends, and himself. Baseball ended up banning steroids and implementing a new drug testing regimen.

Through it all, Barry Bonds continued to issue denials as he continued to inch closer to Aaron's record and his former BALCO associates were hauled off to the courtroom. Yet the things he seemed to want most, the adulation of the fans and the acclaim of being the greatest player of all time, continued to elude him. The public now saw Bonds as a pumped-up freak whose slugging accomplishments were suspect. Bonds sought to be the king of the sports world; all he received for his efforts was apathy. When Hank Aaron hit his record-setting home run, the whole world watched. When Barry Bonds supplanted Aaron late Tuesday, all the kids had gone to bed. Nobody even bothered to break in to network programming. Bonds' historic achievement was relegated to the highlight reel on ESPN, next to the motocross results.

All the old numbers we memorized are gone now. Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's record for base hits, before being barred from the game for life due to his gambling activities. Cal Ripken played more consecutive games than Lou Gehrig, continuing on past the age that Gehrig lost his life to a disabling muscle disease. Nolan Ryan obliterated Walter Johnson's strikeout mark, and Rickey Henderson ran well past all of Lou Brock's stolen base records. But their numbers are of little interest to young boys today. The stars of today remain under a cloud of suspicion, and you're about as likely to find young boys poring over their accomplishments as you are to find those boys playing baseball in some old man's field on a warm summer day.

UPDATE: Cakesniffer notes in comments that androstenedione is not a steroid, which is technically correct. Andro is naturally produced by the human body, which in turn breaks it down into testosterone. Here's the best explanation I can find:

Androstenedione is a supplement made from a naturally occurring steroid hormone. The body metabolizes androstenedione into testosterone, which is considered a steroid. When supplements of testosterone are taken in high doses, they are known to have an anabolic effect increasing muscle size and strength.

The distinction to be made is between andro and synthetically produced anabolic steroids such as what BALCO trafficked in. The FDA, though, treats supplements containing andro the same way it treats the synthetics.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bad news for Simon Pretty

I originally blogged about Simon Pretty, the man whose sister refused him a possibly life-saving bone marrow transplant, back in March. This story attracted quite a bit of interest worldwide, with a number of people offering to help Pretty. Things appeared hopeful for a time, as an American bone marrow donor was found, and Pretty seemed to be on the road to recovery.

A commenter on the update thread informed me that Pretty's health had taken a turn for the worse, though, and that sadly seems to be the case. The Liverpool Echo reported over the weekend that Pretty's transplant failed, and he now has only two weeks to live:

Merseyside businessman Simon Pretty has only a fortnight to live after his body rejected bone marrow from an American donor.

Simon, 46, is now at home with his partner Jacqueline and their three children, aged eight, six and three, after doctors said there was nothing more they could do.


Last month a donor in the US, who only joined a bone marrow register after reading about Simon’s plight, proved to be a match.

The stranger sent Simon a card saying “I’m glad to be your guardian angel”.

Doctors were delighted with how well the transplant went and were confident Simon would beat leukaemia and regain his health in time.

But 10 days ago Simon’s body started rejecting the donated bone marrow and his immune system started attacking it.

His health has been in steady decline since.

Jon Corner, a friend and colleague from Liverpool, said: “Simon is dying. The doctors have said they are just managing his death now.”

I can only hope that in some small way this blog has raised a few people's awareness of the importance of organ donors. But sometimes you just wish that there was more that you could do.

UPDATE (8/27): Simon Pretty's fight is over. My condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A bridge falls

One of the chief purposes of government, as I see it, is to "fix potholes", the potholes being a metaphor for the various types of infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of our economy and society - roads, bridges, schools, drinking water, etc. Sadly, those are things we take for granted until we have a tragedy such as the one in Minneapolis Wednesday. It's not that state and local governments can't see these things coming, it's that the reluctance to properly fund maintenance frequently leaves those responsible in a bind.

Government knows full well where the problems are. The American Society Of Civil Engineers, via Daily Kos, report the ugly:

Dams (D+) Since 1998, the number of unsafe dams has risen by 33% to more than 3,500. While federally owned dams are in good condition, and there have been modest gains in repair, the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired. $10.1 billion is needed over the next 12 years to address all critical non-federal dams--dams which pose a direct risk to human life should they fail. ...

Drinking Water (D-) America faces a shortfall of $11 billion annually to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations. Federal funding for drinking water in 2005 remained level at $850 million, less than 10% of the total national requirement. The Bush administration has proposed the same level of funding for FY06. ...

Schools (D) The Federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 billion was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since reported a need as high as $268 billion. Despite public support of bond initiatives to provide funding for school facilities, without a clear understanding of the need, it is uncertain whether schools can meet increasing enrollment demands and the smaller class sizes mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. ...

Transit (D+)Transit use increased faster than any other mode of transportation--up 21%--between 1993 and 2002. Federal investment during this period stemmed the decline in the condition of existing transit infrastructure. The reduction in federal investment in real dollars since 2001 threatens this turnaround. In 2002, total capital outlays for transit were $12.3 billion. The Federal Transit Administration estimates $14.8 billion is needed annually to maintain conditions, and $20.6 billion is needed to improve to "good" conditions. Meanwhile, many major transit properties are borrowing funds to maintain operations, even as they are significantly raising fares and cutting back service. ...

Wastewater (D-) Aging wastewater management systems discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. surface waters each year. The EPA estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over the next 20 years to replace existing systems and build new ones to meet increasing demands. Yet, in 2005, Congress cut funding for wastewater management for the first time in eight years. The Bush administration has proposed a further 33% reduction, to $730 million, for FY06.

I deal with some of this stuff out of firsthand experience, working in a 75-year-old water treatment plant where we provide safe drinking water despite working with some equipment that predates World War II, while other workers in the field keep 100-year-old mains functioning. We are expected to do are job successfully and without federal violations, as we should be, yet our success ironically is cited as proof that our equipment and facilities are just fine and that further investment is unnecessary.

So will the Minneapolis bridge collapse lead to heightened awareness of America's infrastructure problems? Don't bet on it. Last night, Nashville conducted the first round of its mayoral election, and no sooner had the polls closed than ex-Congressman Bob Clement was castigating in his best Foghorn Leghorn voice runoff opponent Karl Dean for his opposition to a rule change requiring that property tax increases be approved by popular vote. Dean, city legal director at the time, maintains that the referendum requirement is unconstitutional. Voters going to the polls yesterday claimed that illegal immigration was the biggest issue facing the city of Nashville (although we are 1000 miles from the nearest border), while maintaining schools and roads was mentioned by only 5% of those polled.

Although good arguments can be made for requiring popular approval of tax increases, this leads to those wishing to see improvements properly funded running into opposition from those who oppose all tax increases, anywhere, anytime. Genuine needs get lost in the argument over whose money it is. What's most galling of all about the anti-taxers is that they have no good idea of how infrastructure improvements are supposed to be paid for.

Meanwhile, schools go without adequate heat and air conditioning, potholes grow, and bridges fall. It was Minneapolis the other day; it could be Nashville tomorrow. Truly we need to understand that we are all in this together.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Book quiz

I found this over at Mixter's. I take these web survey things every so often, but rarely find them compelling enough to share with the folks. This one, though, comes so close it's almost scary:

You're Loosely Based!

by Storey Clayton

While most people haven't heard of you, you're a really good and
interesting person. Rather clever and witty, you crack a lot of jokes about the world
around you. You do have a serious side, however, where your interest covers the homeless
and the inequalities of society. You're good at bringing people together, but they keep
asking you what your name means.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I guess I need to go find this one now - hell, I've never even heard of Storey Clayton. Some of you literary-minded Hillsters may find this interesting as well.