Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Post Haste

Last Saturday morning I took nine play scripts, three books, two shirts (one Inge t-shirt and one Inge corduroy), and two Inge Festival wine glasses (boxed) to the Post Office on Laurel Street in Independence, Kansas, to mail them home because I barely had room in my carry-on for what I’d already packed. (Yeah, I need a bigger vulture for my carry-on…) Tom, the clerk at the counter, got a box and he neatly packed it all in and sealed it up. The price of postage back to Florida — the box was free — was $13.45.

The receipt says the package was accepted at 9:48 a.m. on Saturday. At 5:30 p.m. on Monday there was a knock on the front door from my postal carrier (a nice lady; she comes to our car shows) and she handed me the box. Everything was intact, barely a mark on the box, and less than 72 hours after I sent it from Kansas.

A lot of people knock the Postal Service — ah, it’s slow, it’s typical government bureaucracy, blah, blah. Except the USPS has been an independent self-supporting agency since 1972, and more importantly, can UPS or Fed Ex pick up a package on Saturday in the middle of rural Kansas and get it to South Florida in less than three days for less than $15? YMMV, but I’m impressed.

As the carrier was dropping off the box, a Fed Ex truck zoomed by. I wanted to holler “Neener, neener!”

Monday, February 22, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short Takes

Car bomb hits military convoy in Turkey, killing 28.

President Obama will not attend Scalia’s funeral.

Apple fights court order to unlock San Bernardino suspect’s phone.

Nike drops boxer Manny Pacquiano as spokesperson after anti-gay remarks.

Not Me: Florida winners of huge Powerball win come forward.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Death of Antonin Scalia — Evan Osnos in The New Yorker looks at what lies ahead now that he’s gone.

Scalia gesture 02-14-16The abrupt death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—the fiery, funny, polarizing face of the Court’s modern conservative turn—ended a chapter in legal history and opened a political battle of a kind that America has not seen in decades. The bitter divide of this Presidential election season—over visions for the economy, national security, and immigration—has widened to include the ideological composition of the nation’s highest court.

At seventy-nine, Scalia was the Court’s longest-serving Justice, a father of nine, and an outsized personality who thrilled conservatives and infuriated liberals like nobody else in Washington. Though he maintained close friendships with some of his combatants, including fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and always hired a “token liberal” among his clerks, he openly relished the political implications of the Court’s affairs. Ever since he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, in 1986, he dedicated himself to combating the notion of a “living” Constitution that evolves in step with the nation. The very announcement of Scalia’s death was accompanied by a political declaration. In the first official notice, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the rule of law.”

The 2016 election has become a contest not only to determine control of the White House and the Congress but also to shape the future of the Supreme Court. The next President was expected to make multiple appointments to the court. (On Inauguration Day, Ginsburg will be nearly eighty-four, Anthony Kennedy will be over eighty, and Stephen Breyer will be seventy-eight.) With Scalia’s death, the partisan composition of the Court is now already up in the air. In a hastily arranged address on Saturday night, President Obama said he planned to name a nominee, over the protests of Republicans who could seek to prevent the Senate from voting on it. “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor, in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to carry out its responsibility for a timely vote,” he said. The issues at stake, he added, “are bigger than any one party. They are about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his life.”

The outcome of the process has the potential to reshape American law on abortion, affirmative action, voting rights, energy, campaign finance, and many other issues. The political effects on the Presidential race cut in multiple directions: Will the suddenly inescapable vision of, say, a Cruz Presidency and a Cruz-chosen nominee bring more Democrats to the polls? And to which Democrat does that benefit accrue? Will the risk of a Sanders Court inspire evangelical voters to consolidate behind a Republican choice?

As news of Scalia’s death spread, hours before a Republican debate, the call for a moratorium on political strategizing around the news, in order to honor his achievements, was brief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement that, in effect, called on President Obama to refrain from naming a replacement and allow the Court to operate with eight Justices. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” McConnell said.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who was a clerk for former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, agreed, marking Scalia’s passing in a tweet: “We owe it to him, and the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Obama to nominate a replacement immediately, saying, “The Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible.” Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, called for the Senate to “delay, delay, delay” if President Obama attempts to name a successor.

Hillary Clinton said that Republicans who want the seat to remain vacant until the next President is in office “dishonor our Constitution” for partisan reasons. Bernie Sanders, who defeated Clinton last week in the New Hampshire primary in part by presenting himself as a different kind of politician, avoided any mention of the political implications: “While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”

When Obama does nominate a successor to Scalia, that could set the stage for a Republican filibuster in the Senate. If there is a filibuster of a nominee, it will be the first time that has occurred since 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson, blocked by Senate Republicans and Southern Democrats, reluctantly withdrew the nomination of his confidant Abe Fortas, whom he had appointed to the Supreme Court three years earlier, to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice.

That drama began in June of that year when Warren, a Republican known for his liberal decisions, informed Johnson that he intended to retire. Just months before Election Day, Johnson moved swiftly to nominate Fortas as a successor to the Chief Justice. But it emerged that Fortas had attended White House staff meetings, briefed Johnson on Court deliberations, and pressured senators to limit their opposition to the Vietnam War. Moreover, Fortas had been paid outside his salary to speak to students at American University. The Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen and others withdrew their support—sparking the first and, so far, the only Senate filibuster over a Supreme Court nomination. (Scholars and partisan opponents have debated, ever since, whether it was technically a filibuster or another form of parliamentary procedure, though Laura Kalman, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has said that “Abe Fortas and L.B.J. are spinning in their graves at the notion there was no filibuster.”)

While the White House weighs potential nominees, the courts and Presidential contenders face a range of puzzling implications. What will happen if the Supreme Court reaches a tie in any of the cases that are currently before the Justices? (The lower court ruling would stand but would not set a legal precedent.) Is there any liberal nominee who stands a chance of winning confirmation in a Republican-controlled Senate? (Early bets landed on Federal Appeals Court Judge Sri Srinivasan, an Indian-American jurist who has worked in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.) In his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Srinivasan won, in 2013, that rare achievement for a Democrat in today’s Washington—unanimous confirmation, with praise from Republicans.

It’s Not Just Flint — David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz report that a lot of cities and towns have bad water.

“I know if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself if my kids’ health could be at risk,” said President Obama on a recent trip to Michigan.  “Up there” was Flint, a rusting industrial city in the grip of a “water crisis” brought on by a government austerity scheme.  To save a couple of million dollars, that city switched its source of water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a long-time industrial dumping ground for the toxic industries that had once made their home along its banks.  Now, the city is enveloped in a public health emergency, with elevated levels of lead in its water supply and in the blood of its children.

The price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now estimated at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive.  In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.   As little as a few specks of lead in the water children drink or in flakes of paint that come off the walls of old houses and are ingested can change the course of a life. The amount of lead dust that covers a thumbnail is enough to send a child into a coma or into convulsions leading to death. It takes less than a tenth of that amount to cause IQ loss, hearing loss, or behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the government agency responsible for tracking and protecting the nation’s health, says simply, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

President Obama would have good reason to worry if his kids lived in Flint.  But the city’s children are hardly the only ones threatened by this public health crisis.  There’s a lead crisis for children in Baltimore, Maryland,Herculaneum, Missouri, Sebring, Ohio, and even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and that’s just to begin a list.  State reports suggest, for instance, that “18 cities in Pennsylvania and 11 in New Jersey may have an even higher share of children with dangerously elevated levels of lead than does Flint.” Today, scientists agree that there is no safe level of lead for children and at least half of American children have some of this neurotoxin in their blood.  The CDC is especially concerned about the more than 500,000 American children who have substantial amounts of lead in their bodies. Over the past century, an untold number have had their IQs reduced, their school performances limited, their behaviors altered, and their neurological development undermined.  From coast to coast, from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt, children have been and continue to be imperiled by a century of industrial production, commercial gluttony, and abandonment by the local, state, and federal governments that should have protected them.  Unlike in Flint, the “crisis” seldom comes to public attention.

Hollywood Comes to Cuba — Victoria Burnett reports for the New York Times on lights, camera, and action in newly-reopened Havana.

Cuba PosterDuring a shoot for the Showtime comedy series “House of Lies” last month, Don Cheadle sat outside a cafe in Old Havana, puffing on a fat cigar and clinking glasses with three compadres.

It was a novel scene — an American actor filming an American TV show on a Cuban street — and one that, until last month, would have been illegal under the United States’s economic embargo.

But regulations published by the Treasury Department on Jan. 26 now allow Americans to shoot scripted movies and shows in Cuba for the first time in half a century. The rules opened the door to American projects — which could include scenes for the next “Fast & Furious” movie and an Ethan Hawke film — and to collaboration between Hollywood and the island’s underfunded film sector.

“The world just got bigger because Cuba has become accessible,” said Matthew Carnahan, creator of “House of Lies.”

As a location, Cuba was inspiring, if challenging, he said, but added, “I’m dreaming up reasons to go back.”

A stream of American filmmakers needing to hire Cuban equipment and crews would be a boon to the country’s independent production industry, which sprouted in the late 1990s as digital technology made filmmaking more accessible and state money for movies ran dry.

Some Cuban filmmakers worry, though, that their government will open its arms to Hollywood while continuing to give its own filmmakers the cold shoulder. Independent production companies in Cuba operate in a legal limbo, getting little or no funding from the state and often struggling to get their movies past the censors.

“It’s great that people from Hollywood want to come to Cuba, but it’s caught us at a bad moment,” said Carlos Lechuga, a Cuban director. “We have stories to tell, and right now we don’t feel that we can do that.”

The thaw between the United States and Cuba in 2014 prompted a swell of inquiries from Americans eager to shoot there. The next “Fast & Furious” installment may be partly shot in Cuba, a spokeswoman for its studio, Universal Pictures, said, adding that the company “is currently seeking approval from the United States and Cuban governments.”

And Cuban filmmakers have been fielding inquiries. “There isn’t a day that I am not meeting with a potential client from the United States,” said Oscar Ernesto Ortega, 29, whose El Central Producciones produces music videos, commercials and documentaries for clients like the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 and Red Bull Media House from offices in Miami and Havana.

Boris Crespo, founder of BIC Producciones, in Havana, said he had been working flat out for the past year, providing production services for Conan O’Brien’s four-day visit to Cuba last year and the History channel’s “Top Gear,” which filmed an episode in Cuba in January.

Mr. Carnahan, who worked with Island Film, another Havana production company, said he was struck by the “passionate” crew and the quality of Cuban actors. (The “House of Lies” shoot was planned before the new regulations went into effect, so producers had to get a license from the Treasury Department.)

What Cuba is missing, he said, are decent cellphone connections, fast Internet access and even “basic things — hammers — things that we don’t give much thought to.”

And the process of procuring shooting permits was extremely slow, he said.

Mr. Crespo said that the state-funded Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry “drowns in its own bureaucracy.”

The Strip from The New York Times (Doonesbury’s site was off-line at the time of publication.)

The Strip 02-14-16

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Short Takes

Sanders and Trump win their respective New Hampshire primaries.

Supreme Court places hold on EPA carbon rules while trial proceeds.

Mercedes-Benz recalling over 700,000 cars over faulty airbags.

GOP pronounces President Obama’s last budget D.O.A.

Director of Intelligence chief James Clapper says the threats are diverse.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Whey To Go

According to this piece in ThinkProgress, a byproduct of cheese production can be used to generate electricity.

Technically, the power station — located in Albertville in the southeastern part of France — uses whey, a byproduct leftover from the production of the town’s famous Beaufort cheese. Whey is the liquid that is released from the curds during the cheese-making process, and it’s the same liquid that often rises to the top of yogurt products. It is mostly water, but is also contains things like proteins and milk sugars. It’s incidental to most cheese-making processes — the curds are what eventually becomes the finished cheese product — and is often considered a waste product by cheese makers. Unfortunately for cheese producers, the process of making cheese results in a lot of residual whey — for every pound of cheese, a producer is normally left with about a gallon of whey.

When bacteria is added to whey, however, they begin to digest the sugars. That, in turn, produces methane, a biogas that can be captured and used as fuel. In Albertville, that methane is then fed through a machine that heats water to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn generates electricity. According to the Independent, the Albertville plant is able to produce an estimated 3,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. That electricity, according to the Telegraph, is eventually sold to French energy giant EDF.

Knowing the French, they probably have a great wine to go with it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Short Takes

North Korea says it successfully tested an H-bomb.

Relations between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims tense after Saudi executions.

Police in Cologne, Germany, investigate hundreds of complaints of sexual assault on New Year’s Eve.

Opposition congress takes office in Venezuela for the first time in 17 years.

At least twenty-five people have died in flooding in Illinois and Missouri.

Keyless auto ignitions have a fatal flaw.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Short Takes

Iran faces more sanctions after Saudi embassy attack.

Volkswagen faces civil suit brought by U.S.

Federal forces tread lightly with Oregon VanillaISIS.

Today is the day President Obama will announce executive action to control gun violence.

GM is investing a lot of money in Lyft, the ride-sharing service.

Monday, November 9, 2015

That Time of Year Again

As inevitable as the Christmas promotions starting before Halloween, the War On Christmas has begun again.

Some people are angry about Starbucks’ new holiday cups. Really angry.

What is the issue, exactly?

In previous years, Starbucks’ iconic holiday cups, which the chain uses in lieu of white cups in November and December, featured wintry or Christmas-themed designs like snowflakes, ornaments and nature scenes. This year, the cups are more minimalist — a red ombre design that Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ vice president of design, said was meant to embrace “the simplicity and the quietness” of the holiday season.

Starbucks Christmas Cups 11-09-15

This is a huge problem for some people, who feel that the plain red cups are oppressing Christians by insulting Christmas.

“This is a denial of historical reality and the great Christian heritage behind the American Dream that has so benefitted Starbucks,” Andrea Williams of the U.K.-based organization Christian Concern told Breitbart. “This also denies the hope of Jesus Christ and His story so powerfully at this time of year.”

Fa la la la la, la la la barf.

If your faith requires that you pay $5 for stinked-up coffee with more ingredients in it than a figgy pudding and poured into a cup that will end up in the trash but only if it has depictions of a fairy tale on it, then your problem isn’t with the people who are selling you that stuff in the first place.

Here’s a news flash:  There is a war on Christmas.  It won.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Short Takes

The Navy sent a ship within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial reefs in the South China Sea.

The Justice Department is investigating the body-slamming incident in South Carolina.

Ben Carson passes Donald Trump in a new national poll.

Walgreen’s bids to buy Rite-Aid.

American Airlines will go “no-frills” on certain routes.

GM to recall 1.4 million cars to repair intake manifold oil leaks (like the one my Pontiac had).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Short Takes

Iran convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, but they didn’t say of what.

Suicide bombers were behind the bombing in Turkey last week.

Russian warplanes are carrying out more airstrikes in Syria.

Confederate flag-wavers indicted for disrupting a black birthday party.

Dell Computers buys EMC for $65 billion.

The Nobel Prize for Economics went to Angus Deaton of Princeton.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Short Takes

Russian missiles bound for Syria landed in Iran.  Oops.

The CEO of VW of America got grilled by Congress.

Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature; a first for non-fiction.

Researchers believe they found the gay gene.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter suspended for 90 days.

R.I.P. Paul Prudhomme, 75, celebrity chef who popularized Cajun cooking.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Short Takes

VW admits to diesel emissions fraud.

E.U. ministers approve migrant plan.

Democrats defeat GOP abortion bill in the Senate.

The sage grouse doesn’t get protected status.

U.S. stops screening passengers from Liberia.

Tropical Update: TS Ida is still stuck in neutral.

R.I.P. Yogi Berra, 90, ballplayer and force of wit.

The Tigers beat the White Sox 2-1 in extra innings.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Short Takes

Fed holds off raising interest rates.

At least 11 people were killed in the 8.3 earthquake off the coast of Chile.

President Obama greeted the three men who thwarted the train attack in Europe.

Verizon now works in Cuba.

Doritos unveiled rainbow-colored chips.

Tropical Update: TD Nine heads west.

The Tigers had the night off.