Contraction Ready for Action

In the eventuality that you don’t know “your” from “you’re”, try this (language NSFW) video on for size: 

Shooting in Defense of Self-Defense?

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford

Photo by Flickr user WerthMedia

In the unlawful homicide of Trayvon Martin, accused killer George Zimmerman’s family are peddling his medical records from the day after Martin was shot and killed with a single bullet to the chest

Why are they putting this out? To poison the jury pool? To generate sympathy for the living shooter and make it seem as if the dead pedestrian armed with snacks was at fault? 

Zimmerman apparently had a nose fracture, black eyes, a few cuts, and two cuts on the back of his head. Martin had injuries to his knuckles. 

The difference is, of course, that the living Zimmerman’s injuries were revealed at a doctor’s appointment the day after Martin was killed. Martin’s knuckle injuries were revealed during his autopsy. 

Zimmerman is claiming that he killed Martin in self-defense. 

Yet this is a case where the known facts seem to indicate that Martin was walking home from the store when stalked and accosted by wanna-be cop Zimmerman, who was clearly upset at the prospect of a hoodie-wearing Black kid being in his neighborhood walking home. Zimmerman then disobeyed the demand of the 911 operator to not chase after Martin, and chased after Martin, accosting him

Understand that, from Martin’s point of view, he had no idea who Zimmerman was, or what he was doing. All he knew is that there was a large man who had been staring at him from an SUV, who was now chasing him down and trying to – what? Beat him? Kidnap him? Kill him? 

The only person in this situation who had the right to defend himself was Trayvon Martin – he was completely reasonable to defend himself against this unprovoked attack from an armed lunatic – by punching the lunatic in the nose, and trying to throw him off him. 

Zimmerman got his cuts and broken nose because he attacked an innocent and unarmed person. Shooting and killing Martin for getting a busted nose and cuts on his head? Totally unreasonable force from someone who admits he didn’t know whether Martin was armed. Zimmerman attacked the kid, and the kid was fighting for his life, and started beating the crap out of his attacker. Zimmerman isn’t just a dummy who should let the cops do their jobs, he’s a horrible fighter. So, when you start losing a fight you provoked and started, that gives you the right to shoot to kill? 

Nice try. 

Postmodern Politics

It’s likely to snow today, so I expect most local news to center around this fact. It’ll be all anyone talks about, and by this afternoon you’ll be sick of it and the accumulation is likely to be less and less destructive than you’re fearing this morning.

So, no news. Not even Wal*Mart bribing Mexican “authorities”.

I spent much of the weekend finishing the Steve Jobs biography. He was equal parts visionary leader and horrible person, and he was a master at combining great technology with better design. Much of the book discusses Jobs’ “reality distortion field” and his binary way of looking at things – everything was either brilliant or crap. He seldom settled for mediocre (MobileMe and the ROKR being notable exceptions).

But near his death, he dabbled in politics and advised President Obama on business matters and education. He had great ideas for expanding school hours, and dumping existing curricula for something more up-to-date, dynamic, and personally tailored for each individual learner. But one thing stuck out politically.

Jobs was critical of President Obama and friendly with Rupert Murdoch. He was critical of Obama’s inability to get things accomplished with the Republicans in Congress, and thought that we were rapidly falling behind other countries for no reason. Jobs explained to Obama that when Apple manufactures in China, he can easily retain 30,000 engineers to help run the factories. Not brilliant engineers with incredible vision, but just regularly trained engineers – guys who can run plants and can easily be trained in vocational programs and community colleges.

Likewise, Jobs went out of his way to criticize Murdoch’s Fox News Channel as being uniquely destructive in our society. Jobs said our political system had stopped being about liberal vs. conservative; instead, it was about constructive vs. destructive politics. And in a way, I think he was right. We’re at a point where liberals lurch rightwards in order to try to please conservatives, often to no avail. Thanks to the Senate filibuster – the use of which has become routine (it never used to be so) – governments must govern by supermajority. That is an unconstitutional result from a constitutional rule. 

But on that point of constructive vs. destructive, the Democrats have become the party that tries to develop solutions to deep socioeconomic problems. The Republicans, on the other hand, have become the party that wants to undo the last 100 years’ worth of societal solutions to socioeconomic problems – basic things like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. 

We should have long ago expanded Medicare to the entire population. The Ryan budget would turn America’s most popular single-payer government medical insurance plan (VA is another) into a semi-private, underfunded voucher program. 

Now I have to consider how that destructive vs. constructive quip applies to Buffalo’s multigenerational political and economic malaise. 

Food for Thought

Two additional items I came across this morning: 

1. Rod Watson’s column in the Buffalo News is fantastic. It succinctly breaks down our civic outrage, and how we prioritize nonsense and largely ignore really important stuff. 

2. This story from the BBC details how Jewish composers imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II wrote music in cabaret style – music that has been largely forgotten, until now. A show in Tel Aviv features that music, which was recovered almost archeologically through interviews and demonstrations the organizers conducted with about 20 survivors from that camp. The survivors say that the finished product faithfully recreates what the music sounded like at the time. It’s a testament to the human spirit even at its most hopeless. 

Winter Break in the American West

Presidents’ Day week, my family and I spent some time in the great American Southwest. Because every school in WNY has that week off, airfares from Buffalo are notoriously expensive, so we opted to save 50% and fly out of CLE. To make the early morning departure even easier, we stayed at a Sheraton on-site that offers a stay & fly package, which includes long term parking for up to 2 weeks. Now that you have to arrive 2 hours before your flight to accommodate a stressy security procedure, a little extra sleep goes a long way.

Saturday morning, the hotel shuttle drove us about 1/4 mile to departures, and we were on our way to PHX. We try to do most of our flying on Southwest or JetBlue, which both give you one free checked bag. Continental/United, however, does not, so each of us had a carry-on suitcase and a piece of hand luggage. It was a bit unwieldily because, really, a 5 year-old can’t be expected to do this, but we made it work. The payoff is walking off the plane in PHX, out of the security zone, and directly to the shuttle to the centralized rent-a-car facility.

In-n-Out Burger

Similarly, by joining Dollar rent-a-car’s free “Express” service, I didn’t have to wait at a counter, but walked directly to the garage, to my waiting car. Although I had booked a full size car, I was surprised to see a Nissan Altima sitting in the spot. It was relatively new, very clean, smelled like a new car rather than an air freshener, and while its engine was a bit wheezy – especially at altitude, it more than accommodated the four of us and all our bags.

Sedona

The first day we drove to Flagstaff, about 100 miles north from Phoenix. We stopped off for lunch at In-n-Out Burger and cut through the gorgeous scenery of Sedona en route to Flagstaff, where we would spend the night before hitting the Grand Canyon.

From Outside

Last year, I had followed the story of Flagstaff resident Caleb Schiff, who was writing for Eater.com’s Slice blog, detailing his process in opening a genuine Neapolitan pizza place. When I read about the delivery of his Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven, I made a note to go out of our way to try his place out. We got our wish.

Caleb at work

I had been Tweeting my excitement to try Schiff’s place (@pizzicletta) and when we arrived, he took the time to come out and say hello. His pizza slice-shaped little restaurant is small and cozy, but offers up everything you could possibly want – good beer, excellent wine, phenomenal wood-fired pizza, friendly people, and homemade daily gelato. It’s a remarkably simple menu, and everything is superb. There are two seating areas – a counter facing a window, and a long table that promotes getting to know your fellow diners. We met people from Montreal who came to Pizzicletta from their current home in Phoenix, on their way to ski the Arizona Snow Bowl. We met locals who were there to try the new guy out. It was busy, and Caleb is living what’s clearly his dream. He’s a talented chef who has a really great thing going. I hope to return sooner rather than later.

Flagstaff itself is a sleepy little place that I can only describe as a cowboy version of a New England college town. It reminded me of places like Northhampton, Massachusetts and Middlebury, Vermont – a gritty charm that works perfectly for the young people who pass through it and the bars, restaurants, music venues, and cafes that go along with it. Driving through its downtown, I found a courthouse, a law firm, and a mid-60s era Bank of America office building. Everything else was retail and services.

The next morning, we headed northeast out of Flagstaff to take the longer, but more scenic eastern approach into the Grand Canyon National Park. We stopped off in Cameron where there’s a mega-kitschy tchotchke shop, which was loaded with Japanese tourists, before heading west into some low clouds, which quickly turned into an on-again, off-again snowstorm.

Looking East

We came upon the Watchtower at the western end of the park and could see absolutely nothing. We were in a cloud bank, with winds so strong it was snowing up. We hung around for a little while to see if the clouds would lift, and they soon did. With a little patience, we were greeted with the cloudbank lifting, revealing the Grand Canyon in her cloudy, snowy glory. It was truly a magical experience.

The drive west to our hotel in Grand Canyon Village, however, was less magical. Although there were a few magnificent views from occasional pull-offs we took, the roadway was mostly untreated, and downright treacherous. We saw three accidents due to the compacted snow that turned to ice underneath. It’s a somewhat winding and hilly road, with only occasional guardrails, so the 15-ish mile drive was a bit rough. Having rented our car in Phoenix, we didn’t even come equipped with an ice scraper.

From Grand Canyon Village

Food at the Grand Canyon is mostly one thing – expensive. Quality is something of an afterthought. Think banquet food + captive audience. So, before leaving Flagstaff we had stopped at a Safeway to pick up provisions like peanut butter, baguettes, sodas, and other snacks. Breakfasts and lunches were made from these raw materials, as well as some we picked up at the Delaware North-operated grocery store at the park. The meal we had at the Bright Angel Lodge was passable and inexpensive, but dinner at the El Tovar Hotel, which is quite an expensive proposition, was only marginally better. Baguettes with ham or chocolate peanut butter were more satisfying, and much cheaper. Also, the Safeway in Flagstaff didn’t just sell ice, but dry ice. No watery mess!

Sunset

Colorado River

From the Grand Canyon, we headed west into California to visit relatives and make a stop at the Getty Center and Jose Andres’ restaurant, The Bazaar. I love driving out west, so the 400+ mile drive didn’t make for many problems, and a well-timed lunchbreak in Kingman, AZ gave us a second opportunity to grab another round of In-n-Out.

To LA

The Getty Center is perched above the 405, in the Santa Monica Mountains towards the west side of the L.A. basin, near UCLA. You pay $15 to park in an underground garage, and take a free tram ride up the mountain to the free museum, which can only be described as magnificent. The view was unparalleled, stretching east from Hollywood and downtown LA, west to the Pacific Ocean, which was mostly obscured by a thick marine layer. The Getty’s design itself is something to behold, and unfortunately we had only limited time to check out a smattering of the many exhibits they feature, including some Classical statuary, Impressionist paintings, some photographic exhibits, and some abstract sculpture. The Getty itself is worth a visit to LA, and a full day’s attention.

Al Fresco

The 405

From there we caught Wilshire to head east towards Beverly Hills, where we dined at one of the most whimsical and delicious restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Honestly, to include a review of this phenomenal restaurant in this general travelogue wouldn’t do it justice. But what struck me about Bazaar wasn’t just the inventive menu, the talented kitchen, or the perfect execution of really complicated dishes – instead, it was the service. Our server made sure this wasn’t just another feeding frenzy, but an experience – when’s the last time that your server, in explaining the menu, told you to ask questions and have fun? This, we did. There are some pictures of the food in my Flickr set.

The next morning, we bade family farewell and took a quick detour to show the kids the part of Hollywood in and around Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Kodak Theater. Everything was being prepped for the Oscars that coming Sunday, which gave us a taste of what Hollywood is really about – superficial self-promotion. Take note that there’s a Beard Papa cream puff bakery there, as well as a Crumbs cupcake shop.

Kodak Theater

In-N-Out on Sunset

We stopped for lunch at a mall in Rancho Cucamonga that’s built entirely outdoors and resembles an old-fashioned small-town downtown. These types of malls, known as “lifestyle centers” have been all the rage throughout the country for years now, yet the closest one to Buffalo is the Legacy Village outside Cleveland. As we continued east towards Phoenix, we stopped again at Indio in the Coachella Valley to try a delicacy that I can highly recommend: Shields’ date crystal shake. Shields started growing dates back during the depression, and soon became a popular roadside attraction. Shields invented the date crystal, which they use to soften and dissolve into soft vanilla ice cream to create their date shake – a confection that’s simple, delicious, and hard to compare to anything. It’s one-of-a-kind, but you can give it a shot yourself. They sell date crystals online.

Shields

Date Palms

In Phoenix, we stayed at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. It’s a resort located on an Indian Reservation, and like the Grand Canyon resorts, it’s very family-friendly, but also quite expensive. Well, the original reservation we made for three nights through Starwood.com was $250/night. But as our trip approached, I kept an eye on Hotwire.com, which gives you great deals but only describes the hotel – it doesn’t identify it. But by using betterbidding.com, I was able to decipher that a $120/night deal was being offered on a hotel that I was 99% sure was the Shertaon Wild Horse Pass. When I bought the reservation, I was right, and saved almost $500. But the food there was pricey, too – two bagels and two coffees ran us $22, so from then on we got breakfast and some lunch provisions at the closest thing they have to Wegmans – AJ’s Fine Foods. They even sell beer, wine, and hard liquor. How bout that.

Night Driving

'Pomo

'Pomo Margherita

I had never spent any time in the Phoenix area, and fully expected it to be a baking, seedy and horrible place. But while I found the Los Angeles area to be somewhat seedy, I had no such opinion of Phoenix. In fact, I quite liked it. A lot. I thought the downtown was in great shape, and had lots to see and do. Their light rail is modern and functional, serving more than just one street. I got to thinking about our local attention to “sense of place”, and decided that Phoenix, despite being a new, sprawling, Southwestern place has “sense of place” of its own. There’s no mistaking where you are, with the blue skies, strong sun, and gorgeous mountainous setting. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it there, although I’m not sure I’d go back in summertime. Next time, we’ll reserve some time at the Bondurant driving school and explore the surrounding mountains a bit more.

Dino

The Phoenix Art Museum was phenomenal – situated in a gorgeously designed facility, it had some wonderful exhibits. We particularly loved the contemporary art wing, the Impressionist gallery, and a great exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright designs (including the one for the Larkin Administration Building). One of the things I learned about Wright was his vision for the “city of tomorrow”, which wasn’t so much a city as it was a sprawling, car-dependent community where every family lived on an acre. Broadacre City was never built, but they had a Wright-built model of it on display. It was thought-provoking – not 70 years ago, Wright foresaw a car-based, non-urban utopia whose population density would be miniscule in comparison even with that of Phoenix. How times have changed. Perhaps we’re too quick to assail those who came before us and brought about urban renewal and suburban sprawl. These were not only mainstream, but downright progressive in that time, when cities were not particularly attractive places to live.

In order to make sure we could zip up our bags in such a way as we wouldn’t have to pack them, we made a couple of stops at the post office to send stuff home to ourselves. Those flat-rate priority boxes were the difference between closing some bags, and checking others.

Corral

Aside from golf and a nearby casino and wild-west replica town, the resort had a horse ranch where the kids were able to ride a horse for the first time. The woman taught them how to groom the horse, clean its shoes, put the saddle on, and then to ride. It was 2 really special hours that those sisters will always remember.

Old Town Scottsdale is wild-west kitschy, but the art galleries to the west were like museums in their own right. As for dining, we found another Neapolitan place called ‘Pomo, which Pizzicletta’s Caleb Schiff had recommended. As I approached the pizzaiolo to take a snapshot of the gorgeous red-tiled wood-fired oven, he waved me over and chatted me up in barely comprehensible Englalian. Later, Fabio the master pizzaiolo sent out a delicious garlic & red pepper oil condiment to use on our pizzas, and a limoncello nightcap that had a wonderful “orange julius” creamsicle consistency. We went back the next night because, hey – there’s no Neapolitan places back home, so we stuck with what we knew was good before a hectic day coming home.

Scottsdale Old Town

And so it was that we filled up the tank at the Chandler Love’s truck stop before getting some shut-eye, leaving Sunday morning at 5am to return our car and catch a 7am flight to CLE. Thankfully, the weather back home was decent, and the ride back to Buffalo was quick. I did notice, however, that almost every other highway sign in Ohio seems to have a solar-powered K-band radar gun. I don’t know if they were attached to anything or transmitting anywhere, but the radar detector went off every couple of minutes like clockwork. I guess Ohio decided that they wouldn’t ban detectors, they’d just harass you.

 

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615

News from a Failed State

Everything in the world is irretrievably broken!

1. An Illinois nazi is running for Congress as a Republican. He thinks that Obama is an “illegal alien”, and that the Holocaust is “the blackest lie in history“, and that it “never happened.” Congratulations, Illinois Republicans! (To be fair, insane cultist Lyndon LaRouche perennially appears on ballots as a Democrat).

2. While the WNY right wing establishment and its mouthpieces try desperately to try and embarrass Congresswoman Kathy Hochul’s poor response to a blatant Catholic-church-organized anti-contraception ambush, one should note that the whole anti-contraception thing didn’t do Rick Santorum (PA-Papist Party) any favors among Catholics in Michigan this week.  As for the constitutionality of a regulation requiring Catholic-owned entities to offer contraceptive services to their employees, there is no religious-based exemption from obeying laws of general applicability. Rastafarians don’t get a special exemption from anti-marijuana statutes just because it’s their sacrament. 

3. A federal judge sent an email to some friends suggesting that the President of the United States, Barack Obama was born as the result of intercourse between his mother, (who was white), and a dog.  Ha ha! That half-black Indo-Kenyan illegal communazi usurper came about as a result of BESTIALITY!  HAFUCKINGHA!  Luckily, his Honor has a perfectly reasonable explanation: 

I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.

Thanks for clearing that up!

4. Speaking of emails, Buffalo developer Carl Paladino sent out an email yesterday demanding that the Republicans in the state senate move immediately to remove Skelos from his post as majority leader, or else Carl and his band of tea party folks who led him to a sweeping 33% – 62% loss to Andrew Cuomo in 2010 would recruit candidates to replace every single one of them. 

Your self-serving and weak demeanor and participation in illusion and theatrics in dealing with the Governor, Sheldon Silver and the establishment cabal in Albany are an affront to the people who worked so hard to elect a Republican senate majority only to be thrown under the bus. 

You are either incompetent or diabolical in your indifference to what was expected of you in leading the opposition and highlighting and bargaining for issues vital to your party and the taxpayers. Your inability to demand government transparency or to adopt it as required process in senate deliberations was unacceptable.  

This memo shall serve as my demand, on behalf of the Republican Party rank and file, for your immediate resignation as majority leader of the N.Y. State Senate. 

The Free Republican Caucus Initiative will deal with those other treacherous Republican Senators who with you sold out their integrity and abrogated their pledges to the taxpayers.

I think it’s precious that Mr. Paladino presumes to speak, “on behalf of the Republican Party rank and file” despite having been elected to no office whatsoever. As for “Free Republican Caucus Initiative”, it should be henceforth known by the acronym, “FREECCI”.  FREECCI released a demand that any Republican senator who doesn’t wish to face a tea party primary sign some pledge or another, enumerating Carl Paladino’s demands. Aside from Skelos, however, only a certain number of senators are singled out: 

We will support republican candidates who agree to a simple pledge stated at the end of this memo. Included are a slate of republican primary candidates to oppose Mark Grisanti, James Alessi, Roy McDonald and Stephen Saland, all of whom showed a lack of integrity and respect for those who elected them.

What do they all have in common? They were the four Republican state senators who voted in favor of same sex marriage last year. Although Paladino never mentions it once in yesterday’s release, covering up all his fury with angry rhetoric about Medicaid, the deficit, transparency, and the media – this all comes down to the fact that these guys voted to let the gays marry, and Skelos let them do it. 

5. A farm in Nevada recently tried to hold a farm-to-fork dinner, featuring meat, fruit, and vegetables grown on small farms in the region. The Southern Nevada Health District at first tried to throw roadblocks in they way of the event. When the organizers went above and beyond what was demanded, what amounted to a SWAT team descended on the dinner, declared everything to be unsafe for human consumption, and ordered that everything be bleached and disposed-of. This is an outrage that deserves nationwide attention. 

6. The contents of Valenti’s restaurant were auctioned off yesterday to satisfy a debt of over $5,000. In other news, Mighty Taco announced yesterday that it will be opening up in the location on Division Street in North Tonawanda that most recently housed Valenti’s. 

7. A woman living in a huge mansion north of Albany was arrested after investigators found that she was keeping a woman from India as a virtual slave, paying her what amounts to $0.85/hour for the past 5-6 years. Annie George paid the worker only $29,000 since she had worked there at all hours as a servant, starting in 2005. Prosecutors say the worker, who is unnamed, is entitled to back wages of at least $206,000. Recordings of phone calls between George and the worker’s son in India reveal that George knew what she was doing was a “big crime.” 

8. Warren Buffet, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns the Buffalo News, is a huge fan of paywalls. A paywall at the Buffalo News is under consideration, and its implementation would only do further harm to it. 

9. Insane southwest Sheriff who finds himself the target of a federal abuse allegation, will today release the findings that a “posse” he organized with respect to President Obama’s birth certificate. At long last, we’ll have a crazy elected official’s opinion on this huge controversy!

The Scale of the Universe

You’ll need Flash to see this, but this is pretty cool and reveals the scale of the universe. 

Flash Games and Embed Code
http://www.mad4flash.com/games/the-scale-of-the-universe.swf
Flash Games and Embed Code

Friday Videos

Here are some videos I favorited recently on YouTube.  

Last week, I had this song in my head for no reason whatsoever. I thought this rendition from 1994 – just a year before Jerry Garcia’s death – was particularly good. 

 

Check out this French guy “EKLIPS” beat boxing:

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. Watch this incredible compilation video done by a pilot for a Brazilian airline. I love how the newer Airbus aircraft have a joystick controller, and the panoramas of Rio de Janeiro are breathtaking.

This man witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and went on a game show in 1956 to talk about it. This is the sort of real-life time travel described in this article.

I’m not a huge fan of Bob Dylan as a performer, but he is a great songwriter. Here’s another video from the Dead performing “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. It’s a favorite of mine.

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