We’ve been informed by a knowledgeable source at the industrial campus where we work that the decorative cherry trees that we referred to in our New Year’s post are in reality decorative pear trees, in which the fruit has been reduced to the size of a bee-bee.

Closer examination of the tiny fruit reveals this to be true, as they have a woody core, much as a full-sized pear does, and not the stone one might expect to find in a cherry.

No wonder the squirrels love them.

OMT regrets this error.

This past Sunday, The New York Times published an extended piece by David Kirkpatrick, the Times’ Cairo bureau chief, about the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four people died, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens. The report provided more details than we have yet seen about the events leading up to the attack, as well as the attack itself. It is, we would say, the most credible account of this incident yet published by any news organization (that’s not saying much, considering the state of journalism in America today). And yet its conclusions — among which, that Al Qaeda had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack — has caused a firestorm over on the right, who not only question the Times’ facts, but also their motivations for going to the effort of publishing 7,000-plus words on the topic, written and researched by people who were actually on the ground in Libya.

Here’s what the Times has to say:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

There’s much more in the actual piece, of course, and it’s well worth a read, but the juiciest bits of red meat are all in the above paragraph. And it’s that red meat that has had commentators (if “commentators” is the right word, and we don’t think it is) over on the right salivating all week. Because, unfortunately, the facts in the Times piece fly in the face of the belief system over on the right, that somehow a decimated, leaderless, fragmented Al Qaeda masterminded the attack while our State Department was asleep at the switches (this would be Hillary Clinton — more on that later), and that a “massive” coverup immediately ensued, with the full participation of people at the highest levels of the administration. Including that foreign-born Muslim socialist who wants to put grandma in front of a death panel, take away your assault rifles, transfer the hard-earned money from rich white folks and distribute it among his inner-city “brothers”, and force you to marry your dog.

Our favorite rebuttal to the Times piece is the one that Wesley Pruden published in The Washington Times. Pruden, a former food editor at the Washington Times (at least, that’s what we believe), calls on his extensive background in culinary articles and writing features for homemakers in the Sunday edition to bleat out observations like:

David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief of The New York Times, grunted, burped and produced a tiny mouse of special pleading, an account with nothing new of much importance, except a few colorful facts of the sort that were once the popcorn of newsmagazine journalism. He describes, for example, the vase in the living room of the mother of one of the suspects in the Benghazi attack. Vases are no doubt important, but mostly to interior decorators. This account, so transparent to anyone who reads it even with casual attention, seems hardly worth the effort of a good reporter who was willing to take certain risks to himself.

He goes on to say:

Hearts among Hillary’s campaigners no doubt quickened when they saw the front page of The New York Times on Sunday, but the story is hardly likely to change anybody’s game.

The interior decorators that Pruden refers to, are most likely some of the young boys he’s hooked up with at the baths, which apparently gives him an insight into these events that somehow eluded Kirkpatrick, a reporter who is actually based in the Middle East, and who, as far as we can tell, has never “grunted and burped” while engaging in unspeakable acts with 20-something twink boys in the steam room at a private club for men, as Pruden apparently has.

Oh dear. We’ve just accused Wesley Pruden of having public gay sex. Could that possibly be true?

The fact of the matter is, we just don’t know. But we want to believe that it’s true, and so we will assert it to be true, even though, like Pruden and his ravings about Benghazi, we have not so much as a shred of evidence of it. We absolutely believe it to be true. And we also believe that The Washington Times is engaged in a huge coverup when they attempt to portray Pruden as a happily married man. In fact, everybody on the right is working overtime to keep the whole Wesley Pruden gay sex story under the radar, because it’s in their best interest to make sure that one of their premiere mouthpieces not be exposed for having ugly sexual proclivities that make those of Bill Clinton seem positively PG-13.

We believe that this is true, and so it follows that it is true.

That’s the way things work in faith-based America. Everybody believes everything, but nobody knows shit.

And speaking of Bill Clinton, Pruden drops the other shoe as well, and perhaps the main shoe that the dogs over on the right have been chewing on ever since the results of the 2012 election were finalized. Hillary Clinton.

Utterly transparent morons that they are, it has been clear from the outset that Benghazi will be the GOP’s first line of attack against her should Hillary decide to run for president in 2016. Probably the most popular figure in the entire Obama administration at the time she stepped down as Secretary of State — and this in spite of Benghazi — the GOP and their right-wing propaganda machine fears a Hillary candidacy more than anyone else that the Democrats might offer up. Because she could actually win. And if she did, they wouldn’t be able to oppose her simply because she’s black, they way they have with President Obama. Hillary is a card-carrying WASP, just like the bulk of the Republican party. And if they were to dig their heels in against her the way they have with President Obama, they would have to make it all about her being a woman.

And as every Republican knows, a woman couldn’t possibly be President of the United States, what with all of that menstrual business interfering with her decision-making abilities every month.

Well, at least Democratic women. Republican women apparently don’t menstruate, or at least it doesn’t put them on the emotional roller-coaster that Democratic women are prey to. Which means that a Republican woman would make a perfectly fine president.

Hell, a Republican foreign-born Muslim socialist who wants to put grandma in front of a death panel, take away your assault rifles, transfer the hard-earned money from rich white folks and distribute it among his inner-city “brothers”, and force you to marry your dog would make an excellent president, as everyone knows.

But we digress.

All of this Hillary business is a horrifying prospect for the GOP, because if they have to go after her for sexist reasons, it would drive the final nail into the Republican coffin once and for all. Although most American women fully despise Republican politics, there are still a lot of women within the ranks of the GOP. And after a couple of years of listening to all the coded anti-female messages being sent out by their own party against President Hillary Clinton, even they will start to get the idea that the men in their party don’t have any respect for them. And they will bolt, leaving the GOP with their last, true base — resentful, racist white men.

So having Benghazi as a club to beat Hillary with is like a gift from St. Ronnie of Bonzo himself. Even though the “facts” as the right wing sees them are a total paranoid fantasy, they are a useful weapon against what they believe is the only Democratic candidate who might possibly win in 2016. And in using that weapon, they won’t have to pull all of the anti-feminist rhetoric out of the closet, something that the GOP shit-canned long ago so that they could attract some of the great female intellectuals into their tent, like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Jan Brewer, and Christine O’Donnell.

You remember Christine O’Donnell, don’t you?

“I’m not a witch”.

It’s in the right wing’s best interests to keep Benghazi alive for all of these reasons.

Here at OMT, we’re lukewarm at the prospect of a Clinton candidacy in 2016. Our love for the Clintons and Clintonism has waned considerably in recent years, and we think that the Democratic Party needs a top-to-bottom housecleaning every bit as much as the Republican Party does. It hasn’t escaped our notice that all the firebrands making all of the noise over in the GOP’s “tea party” terrorist cell are young Turks. Although young people generally loathe GOP politics, there is no question that the GOP looks a lot more like they do these days, while the Democrats look a lot like their parents. Of the three Democrats who have been bandied about as potential presidential candidates in 2016, all of them — Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren — have been around the track a few times (in Biden’s case, he remembers when the track was a cornfield).

That’s not a good sign. The Democrats have the demographics — more young people are registered as Democrats then Republicans — but the party doesn’t seem to be grooming the next generation the way that the GOP is.

If “grooming” is what the GOP is doing, and we don’t think that it is.

Of course, the young Turks over in the GOP have pretty much taken control of the party from their elders, whereas young Democrats are much more polite, much better behaved.

Young Democrats could take a lesson from their opposite numbers.

More on the Democratic Party’s pathological politeness in a subsequent essay.

Welcome 2014

It’s probably an omen when a new year begins with the witnessing of something we’d never experienced before.

We’re working today, and as we sit at the Front Desk looking out of the great glass lobby of the building, out onto the wooded campus on this overcast, snow-covered day, we can see the squirrels scampering through the decorative cherry trees right outside the front entrance. Though stripped of their leaves, the trees are not without remnants of the tiny fruit that was so abundant last fall. Inedible for humans, the squirrels seem to love them, and go out onto the most precarious branches in order to reach them. All of the easy-to-reach ones have long since been plucked, so that by mid-winter the acrobatics necessary in order to obtain one of these dried-up little morsels is worthy of The Flying Wallendas.

Of course, squirrels have forgotten more about arboreal acrobatics than has managed to trickle down to humans from our tree-dwelling ancestors over the ensuing millenia. And even when they make a breathtaking misstep, they manage to recover with a flair and a sense of derring-do that makes it all look as though it had been choreographed and rehearsed well in advance.

Now, we’ve been exposed to squirrels our entire life. And since we moved to the city nearly 40 years ago, we’ve probably seen more individual squirrels than we have any other form of wildlife, apart from birds and insects. Hell, for five of those years, we even lived in a neighborhood called Squirrel Hill, and there is no question in our mind that that neighborhood is as aptly named as any in Pittsburgh. These are mostly common grey squirrels, although the occasional black squirrel will put in an appearance. We have a black squirrel that apparently lives close by, because he (or perhaps, she) shows up regularly in our back yard, often climbing up the back steps to taunt our cat, who can be found on the opposite side of the glass door going ballistic every time he comes around.

We’ve read that, unlike red squirrels, black squirrels and grey squirrels are of the same species, and that the black coloration is simply the rare expression of a gene that is usually recessive. It’s been our experience, though, that black squirrels tend to be a bit smaller then their grey brethren. We’ve never read anything to support this, and it may well be just coincidence that those we’ve seen have always been smaller. But we’ve seen a number of them, and they have always been smaller, so it could be that we’ve hit onto something that isn’t written up in the squirrel’s taxonomy, at least any that we’ve come across.

That seems unlikely.

The grey squirrels here at this suburban industrial campus, however, live in the woods along with all of the other wildlife (the 181-acre wooded campus is also a wildlife sanctuary), and so these are robust animals, a bit larger even than the city squirrels to which we are accustomed. They’re more feral, too, and unlike their city cousins, they keep humans at a respectable distance.

But they seem to understand the concept of glass, and so even though we’re only within a couple of feet of them here in the lobby, they appear to know that they would have plenty of time to make a break for it if we should decide to come after them. The numerous deer, turkey, raccoons, and even skunks that live here seem to appreciate the safety that glass affords as well, and often browse right up at the front of the building, only to look up casually and unconcerned when they see us walking across the lobby as we leave to go on one of our hourly rounds. If they should hear the telltale “beep” as we swipe our ID badge in order to pass through the front door, however, they waste no time scattering in all directions.

Animals seem to understand man’s technology far better than we give them credit for. At least with regard to how it figures into their personal safety.

So today the squirrels continue to munch away at the shriveled-up cherries, apparently completely oblivious to our presence.

While we were enjoying their show, one squirrel in particular did something which to him was completely innocuous, but which to us was an entirely new experience, one which we’d never even considered before, and the one which we referred to at the top of this post. He made a particularly acrobatic leap — a grand jeté that Baryshnikov himself might envy — and landed on a swinging branch, casually grabbing a cherry with his front paws, and began munching away. It was then that we noticed what appeared to be an arc of water that came from where he was sitting. This was followed by another, longer arc.

We’ve seen many things in our life, God knows, but we have to confess that until today, we’d never seen a squirrel take a piss. We’d never even thought of it before. Of course, we realized that they surely must, as all creatures do, but still it was quite unexpected.

And, of course, to begin a new year by experiencing something — anything — new and unexpected is certainly noteworthy.

Still, if this really does carry with it some sort of portent for the year ahead, one might be excused for having a sense of foreboding.

One of the problems with resurrecting a dormant blog smack dab in the middle of the holiday season is that just when you should be cranking out new content in order to assure your readership that you really mean business this time, you get all caught up in the Christmas rush and you discover that you have precious little time to spend at your keyboard. This is particularly true for us this year, as in addition to the standard holiday activities tugging at our sleeve, we are also in the midst of transitioning from permanent night shift at work to permanent day shift, which will commence for us right around New Year’s. Not only are we in the process of training our nighttime replacement, we ourselves are training for the particularities of our new day shift job.

Our traffic stats have indicated to us that we have apparently acquired an influx of new readers since we came back online, and it would be a damn shame if we were to lose them now that we have them inside the tent. So to keep them occupied, as well as to introduce them to some of the kinds of things that we do here at OMT, we thought it would be a nice idea to peruse the OMT archive for some holiday-themed posts we’ve done in the past. Perhaps after reading a few of these posts, you will be tempted to browse the OMT archive yourself, which, we hope, will keep you sated until our dust settles after the holidays and we can resume publishing new material with some semblance of regularity. Long-time OMT readers may also enjoy this trip down mamary lane …

(1) It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Béla Fleck and the Flecktones released their Christmas album. Here is the 2008 OMT review of Jingle All the Way, a great record that we’ve enjoyed every holiday season since. Regular readers will immediately recognize the “OMT Countdown to Glory”, which we had instituted right after the 2008 presidential election, as we counted the days until George W. Bush was out of office.

(2) Also that December, we wrote A Pre-Christmas Ramble, in which we ruminated over that old holiday chestnut, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. We remind you that when we wrote this, in December of 2008, America was fighting two wars (of choice) and the economy had imploded the previous September. OMT has never been in the habit of taking any prisoners, from which even classic Christmas carols are not exempt.

(3) A Mason Williams Christmas is one of our most popular posts. This is primarily because we generally get a visit from practically anyone who happens to do a Google search on Mason Williams. Apparently we float pretty high up in the search results for him, and that’s just fine with us. We’ve always liked Mason, and to be associated with him because of the Google search algorithm is probably about as much as we can hope for.

(4) Of the three great western religions, both Judaism and Islam observe their high holidays with all the requisite reverence, piety and dignity one might expect from a faith that would like to be taken seriously. From the way that Christmas and Easter are celebrated by Christians, one might be excused for concluding that Christianity is monotheism for morons. This was on our mind when we wrote, Good Grief, ABC, in which we took the Disney-owned (and therefore, loathed just on general principles) broadcast network to task for their butchering of the holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas just so that they could insert a few more commercials.

(5) Finally, we include for your enjoyment our personal favorite — mainly because once we got the absurdity ball rolling, the thing practically wrote itself — 2011’s OMT holiday offering, The Donner Party.

And what’s a special collection without a bonus feature?

Well, this one has nothing to do with the holidays whatsoever, but …

You may recall that the holiday season of 2011 was diminished considerably by the insane freak show that was the Republican presidential selection process (something which OMT gave saturation coverage). On the day before we published The Donner Party, we posted one of our many colorful commentaries about “half-man/half-pig” Newt Gingrich. In A Decline in Pork Futures, we were perhaps at our wits’ end with old Newt, and once we got started, well … see for yourself.

Merry Christmas from the staff and management at OMT.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’
On the judgment day.
On the bloody morning after,
One tin soldier rides away.

            – The Ballad of Billy Jack

Tom Laughlin, who self-immortalized back in the ’70s by writing, directing, and starring in the “Billy Jack” series of movies, died last week in Los Angeles at the age of 82. He died of pneumonia, and here at OMT, we were shocked to learn how old he was. He was the same age as Peter Sellers, who also died last week. We were fully prepared to hear that Sellers was 82, but Billy Jack? Are you kidding?

Billy Jack, for those of you who are unschooled, or just don’t remember, was the half-Navaho Vietnam Vet and former Green Beret with the slow-burning fuse who was kicking racist, redneck ass on behalf of liberal causes even before Clint Eastwood started kicking everyone’s ass for conservative ones. Billy first appeared on the big screen in a 1967 biker picture, The Born Losers, in which he kicks the shit out of the bikers for gang-raping a college student. The film went nowhere, box office-wise.

Next time around, Laughlin made him the main character in the 1969 film, Billy Jack, in which he was back, this time to defend a bunch of multi-ethnic hippies who are running a school for Indians from the local townsfolk who hate hippies, Indians, blacks, Jews and other minorities just on spec. They were Nixon’s “silent majority”, the dark underbelly of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” who saved the world from fascism only to sow the seeds of it here at home. Which sprouted up with great fecundity as their natural offspring, today’s Tea Partiers, who share their racism and love for authoritarianism, if not their silence.

But we digress.

When the Indian kids go to town for some ice cream, they are refused service by the owner of the ice cream shop, and then a gang of bullies dumps flour all over them. This pisses Billy off, natch, and lights that slow-burning fuse we mentioned earlier. Billy starts off calmly telling them how he tries hard to turn the other cheek when he witnesses the ugly behavior of ignorant racists. “But when I see this girl of such a beautiful spirit so degraded,” he continues, “and this boy, that I love, sprawled out by this ape here, and this little girl, who is so special to us that we call her God’s little gift to sunshine — and when I think of the number of years she’s going to have to carry in her memory the savagery of this idiotic moment of yours, I — just — go — berserk!”

Whereupon he does, and Billy Jack single-handedly kicks everybody’s ass. There is a tremendous amount of violence in the film, but it’s all in good fun. We say that because the people on the receiving end of Billy Jack’s ire are ignorant bastards who richly deserve it. And besides, whether or not it’s appropriate to perpetrate senseless violence on unreconstructed assholes is a moral quandary we never had much of a problem grappling with.

Billy Jack was peace, love, and flower power gone all psychopathic on us, and it was something to see. A real shock to the system, especially when viewed through the haze of reefer. The film was made well before Woodstock, but it had all the ugly sensibilities of Altamont, right down to the almost gratuitous violence that permeated the movie.

In the end, Billy Jack kills the son of a local political honcho, because he raped a 13-year old girl. Billy delivers the coup de grace in the form of a karate chop to the throat (it should be noted that this film, with its martial arts themes, predated the entire Bruce Lee genre). Billy is promptly arrested, and his supporters hold their fists defiantly in the air as the cops haul him off, setting up the storyline of the sequel, 1974’s The Trial of Billy Jack.

The film Billy Jack, as one might imagine, became a cult favorite, and spawned an entire subculture of losers who worshipped him as a counterculture hero. This is where we lost interest in the whole Billy Jack thing. We knew a couple of “Billy Jackoffs”, as we liked to call them, and it was a sorry state of affairs. That gene that allows for the worship of gods and other hustlers is recessive in us, which is why we always lose interest when people start pining for their gods, be they Billy Jack, Jesus Christ, Sun Myung Moon, or Steve Jobs.

We viewed the film, then as now, as a curiosity, something of a signpost of its time, an antidote to the 1970 film Joe, in which Peter Boyle starred as an anti-hippie working class father who perpetrates a shoot-out at a hippie commune and winds up killing his own daughter (Susan Sarandon, in an early, pre-Rocky Horror role). There is probably more violence in films today, but the film violence of the late ’60s and early ’70s seemed to take place more in everyday life than it does in today’s movies, in which the most violent films are set either in some fantasy of the future or of the distant past. Apparently since 9/11, Americans want their violence in a form that doesn’t hit quite so close to home, although they still want it, by god.

Still, we can’t help but think that those of us on the left could use a Billy Jack today, out there kicking conservative ass. Spinelessness, wimpiness, and weakness in general has always seemed to be much more prevalent on the left than on the right. Conservatives may not be any more brave than liberals, but they certainly give the appearance of being made of tougher stuff. And in this world in which appearance is reality, they may be onto something. Forget the fact that over on the left there are so many opinions that must be given equal weight, thereby muddying up the political waters to the point at which nothing is clear, the left’s chronic need to be polite, to be fair, to see things from the other guy’s perspective, even when that perspective runs counter to every principle that the left holds dear ultimately translates into political failure in spite of their larger numbers. Not to mention making them come off as a bunch of pussies.

If we ever expect to win this war of attrition against the right, then we on the left are going to have to toughen up — and toughen up hard — and here we think that Billy Jack shows the way forward. Billy Jack never tried to be fair to the racist bullies that populated his films. He never tried to see their side of the argument. Even-handedness was not a part of his makeup, unless by even-handedness you mean using both hands to break somebody’s neck.

Here at OMT, we just don’t see why our side has to concede toughness and single-minded purposefulness to our opposite numbers on the other side of the political divide. We’re not going to gain any ground by being fair when the right is unfair before the argument even starts. Billy Jack could walk into Fox (ahem) News and kick their asses from one end of the studio to the other and not even break a sweat. Faux tough guys Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would pee in their pants if they had to go up against Billy Jack.

You know, we’re just sayin’

As for Laughlin himself, his daughter said “The separation between the character of Billy Jack and my father was tissue thin at its thickest part.”

We find that to be both reassuring and disturbing.

Still, we have an inkling of the rage that was building up in Billy Jack when he “just — goes — berserk.

We get the same feeling when we hear Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich.

* – The title of this piece was lovingly ripped off from a line in the Firesign Theater play In The Next World You’re On Your Own, in an OMT tip o’ the hat to the three surviving members.

For those of you just tuning in, the previous 10 posts constitute the entire output of OMT’s ill-fated successor blog, Tofu 2.0. From this point forward, Tofu 2.0 is officially retired. All new content from us will be found exclusively at this location on the Interweb. We’ll go back and delete the 2.0 blog as soon as we’ve read through all of the unpublished drafts to make sure that there aren’t any choice bits in there that might be useful to us moving forward.

Now that everything is back aboard the mother ship, we can sail the complicated waters of political (and other) commentary with everything in one place.

Everyone here at OMT is overjoyed that the franchise is back up and running again, and we’re ready to resume the hard-hitting journalism that our readers have come to expect and rely upon. Given the dreadful state of major news organizations in this country these days (do you hear us Lara Logan?), this can only be a positive development for the American democracy.

We humbly pick up that fallen standard, and will endeavor to live up to the highest principles and ethics of modern journalism.

Or not …

It’s 11:25 Again

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published September 21, 2013

Anyone who is familiar with my political writing knows that I’ve made a lot of hay over the years accusing people on the right wing of being stupid. After a while, it got to be like a broken record (for those of you who remember what that analogy refers to). But in my defense, I was only responding to what I perceived as the constant barrage of, well … stupidity emanating from that general direction on the political spectrum. For example, I defy anyone — on the right or on the left — to argue that the grotesque spectacle that was the 2012 GOP presidential primary race did anything whatsoever to advance either the seriousness or the intellectual heft of what passes for American political discourse these days.

But if the right wing dominates the stupidity market, it is by no means a monopoly. Over on the left, stupidity is thriving with every bit as much gusto as on the right, thanks in no small part to liberals who bend over backwards trying to appear to be fair and even-handed, even when such breathtaking acrobatics wind up causing permanent damage to their credibility.

In his Friday column, Tony Norman pinch-hits for the red team by going to bat for Rand Paul, the darling of the tea party/libertarian coalition, because, as Norman puts it, Paul “gets it right on drugs, at least”.

Paul, who recently came up with the politically brilliant, if perhaps a tad cynical, strategy of opposing America’s war on drugs on grounds that it unfairly impacts African Americans, who are disproportionately incarcerated (and thus, disenfranchised) for drug offences, seems to be maximizing his reach with this one issue, trying to win over as many new constituencies as he can — progressives who don’t have legal access to reefer, but would like to; stoners who already have it, but would like to enjoy their bud paranoia-free; and blacks (and “other minorities”) whose lives are being shattered by a federal government policy that didn’t make sense back in the 70s when Nixon got the ball rolling, and which makes even less sense now that we have over 40 years of hindsight to judge what a useless clusterfuck the whole thing has been.

All of those groups, incidentally, tend to skew Democratic in their political leanings.

Norman sees this effort on Paul’s part as broadening his appeal “beyond the guns, God and guillotine crowd in the GOP.” Clearer eyes see it for the cynical hoodwinking that it actually is.

“Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” Norman begins. “We’ve all nodded our heads — sometimes vigorously — in agreement with someone we’re at odds with most of the time.”

From this flimsy springboard, Norman launches into a polka-dots-and-moonbeams fawning over Paul’s “thoughtful” Senate Judiciary Committee testimony earlier this week in which he spoke at length about the war on drugs. The bulk of the piece consisted of extensive quotes from Paul’s testimony, including some naked bitch-slapping of President Obama, but had comparatively little of Norman’s own observations, a technique he must have picked up from his pals over at 2 Political Junkies.

This isn’t the first time that Norman has shown a favorable light on Rand Paul at the direct expense of President Obama. Last March, he praised Paul for his stance opposing the use of drones over US territory, highlighting in particular the hissy-fit that Paul threw on the issue in a filibuster during the nomination hearings of John Brennan for CIA director.

This was apparently the first time Norman’s broken Rand Paul clock showed 11:25 when it really was 11:25.

What set Paul off that time was Attorney General Eric Holder’s speculation about an “extraordinary circumstance” in which it might be conceivable that some future president might find the need to use a drone domestically, like in some 9/11 or Pearl Harbor-like scenario. Never mind that no reasonable person would expect any president of the United States in their right mind (I stress this in light of some of the recent candidates for that office) to ever do such a thing.

But Paul saw the opportunity in this to play to his Obama-loathing, anti-government, libertarian base (and its Christo-fascist tea party auxiliary), by suggesting ever so subtlety that this Kenyan-born Muslim socialist who wants to put grandma before a death panel and force you to marry your dog would think nothing of sending a couple of drones over national forest land in Idaho where a group of law-abiding survivalists are building an arsenal and training recruits for the coming race war.

Whether or not it’s his intention, by praising Paul for being right “on this issue”, Norman comes off as though he is carrying Paul’s water for him by reaching out to his liberal readers and saying, “See, Rand Paul isn’t the monster he seems to be.”

Except that he is, but now that ugly fact has been glossed over because Paul happens to be on the side of the angels on an issue that the angels could really take or leave, because he’s doing the devil’s work on practically everything else. It would delight Rand Paul to know that his cause has been furthered by some fair, even-handed progressive who wants to show the world how great it would be if everyone could find the good in others the way he does.

So Rand Paul has some good qualities. So what? Hitler loved his dogs. Osama bin Laden reportedly doted over his children. Pol Pot raised a baby parrot he’d found in the jungle that had lost its mother, nursing it by hand for weeks. Who gives a shit? You want to give them a pass?

Does the sum total of Rand Paul’s good qualities outweigh the sum total of President Obama’s good ones? From how often Norman feels compelled to write columns portraying Rand Paul in a positive light, while at the same time drawing sharp contrasts to President Obama, one might be excused for coming to that conclusion.

Certainly President Obama has not lived up to all of the promise at the start of his first term, but what president does? I can’t think of a single president in my lifetime (which stretches back to Truman) who the American people weren’t pretty much done with by the time they left office, with the exception of JFK, who didn’t so much leave office as he was ripped from it.

Like most people who supported Barack Obama for president, I have my share of disappointments. I’d love to see Guantanamo closed down. I’d love to see all of the troops home from Afghanistan. I’d love to see the National Security Agency reined in. I’d love it if we stayed the hell out of Syria. I’d love to be able to fly on an airplane without having to get half undressed and disgorge my luggage onto a conveyor belt, while some dollar-over-minimum-wage troglodyte scans me with a camera that brings a picture of me, naked, onto a 32-inch wide-screen high-definition monitor that people coming in the opposite direction can see.

But it isn’t as if President Obama has had a particularly cooperative Congress to help him tackle the enormous pile of shit that was waiting for him after he was sworn in. Instead, the stated goal of the GOP was that “this president fail”, the good of the country be damned. They’ve been living up to that goal ever since. The results have been mixed, to Obama’s credit.

So do we really need to be undermining President Obama by praising someone like Rand Paul at the president’s expense simply because Paul’s stance happens to coincide with ours on a couple of issues that, quite frankly, pale in comparison to the myriad issues with which we are diametrically opposed? What value does that bring to our cause? What does that do to promote Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, not to mention state legislatures?

How does bringing aid and comfort our political enemies help us in any way in this war with the right wing? And let’s not kid ourselves about it being a war.

This is where the conservatives have it all over the liberals, and it’s why that in the end, it will be the conservatives who will prevail, despite the fact that, demographically speaking, they are a shrinking minority in America today. Conservatives know how this game is played, and our side needs to be paying closer attention to what makes them so successful.

How many conservative columnists are writing pieces in praise of President Obama (or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, or any other potential 2016 Democratic candidate) when they do or say the right thing on an issue that the conservative columnist favors? When President Obama does something conservatives like, they keep their damn mouths shut, following the first rule of politics, “if you can’t say something bad about your opponent, don’t say anything at all.”

The corollary to this is that when a conservative is in power, they defend them to the hilt. George W. Bush got us into two wars of choice and wrecked the economy in the process, but he still enjoyed the solid support of his base, both in the conservative press and among the rank-and-file. Until at the very end, of course, when, as I indicated above, pretty much everyone was done with his worthless ass.

Liberals, on the other hand, started abandoning President Obama before all the dishes were washed and put away from the inaugural ball, because he didn’t move immediately on all of the issues they expected him to address. By 2010, his base had deserted him en masse, paving the way for Republican gains in the House. Liberals, like spoiled children, want everything right away, and if they don’t get everything, and get it right now, they head for the exits, looking for the next savior to worship.

Conservatives, though, know a thing or two about pragmatism. They have a much sharper focus on the big picture. They know instinctively that no candidate is going to give them everything, so they choose the one that comes closest to their views, and then they stick with them come hell or high water. They vote in every election, too, which goes a long way towards explaining the GOP majorities in the House, and in most of the governorships and state legislatures.

Most liberals think that they only have to actually vote once every four years. I know this, because I vote in every election, primary and general, and I’ve noticed the relatively steady Republican presence, while the Democratic side grows and shrinks exponentially over the course of four years.

Conservatives know how to be citizens in a democracy (at least until they can turn it into an authoritarian dictatorship). They take their politics very seriously, even if most of their candidates are loons. They may not understand much about the Constitution beyond the First and Second Amendments, but they remember their Civics lessons well.

This is why, it pains me to say, that in the final analysis conservatives will end up with the brass ring. The best we can hope for is that some sort of reason begins to prevail within the ranks of the Republican Party before they lead us all down the path to the Armageddon that some of them seem to be fairly drooling for.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating that liberals follow their leaders blindly the way conservatives often seem to do. I’m simply suggesting that as a matter of political expediency liberals take a page or two from the conservative playbook. It could do the left no harm, and, I would argue, a great deal of good. Conservatives are beating liberals like a gong from one end of this country to the other. Demographics tells us that there are way more of us than there are of them. Go figure.

But I digress.

A broken clock may be accurate twice a day, but it is for that very reason that it is utterly useless for its raison d’être. Do we praise the clock when we happen to glance randomly up at 11:25 and it’s right on the money? Why on earth would we?

If we start endorsing broken clocks, next thing you know people will start buying them, and soon it’ll become trendy for people to have clocks and watches that don’t work. Trouble is, eventually nobody will know what time it is anymore. And then what?

I may be in agreement with Rand Paul on a handful of issues, like drones and drugs, but I am vehemently opposed to him on enough of the rest of his positions that to even acknowledge our microscopic affinity is utterly irrelevant. I’m not going to “nod my head” — vigorously or otherwise — just because he plays the right note once every 40 bars.

For an influential person in the media, however, who preens himself as a progressive voice, to praise someone repeatedly who is just this side of a demagogue, but who happens to have the right answer on the use of domestic drones and the war on drugs, is both reckless and irresponsible. If even one of his readers becomes a Rand Paul supporter because, “well, Tony Norman seems to like him, and I’m just as fed up with President Obama as Tony is,” then we have just lost another battle.

The quest to find whatever good exists in a politician with views as extremist as those of Rand Paul is a fool’s errand.

When people like Tony Norman publically praise Rand Paul, all they’re doing is building their own gulag — brick by even-handed brick.

I don’t want to hear about how even a broken clock is accurate twice a day.

I don’t want to hear about how even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.

You want a saying? Try this one on for size:

It’s as well to fall flat on your face as it is to bend over too far backwards.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published September 19, 2013

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced yesterday — and with little fanfare, I might add — that on October 1, it will begin charging readers for access to its web site. For just $9.95 per month, “digital only” readers will have unlimited access to articles published in the on-line version of the PG. Current subscribers to the hardcopy edition of the PG will, of course, have full access on the web free of charge. Non-subscribers will be restricted to a fixed number of articles per month, although the PG has not yet indicated what that number might be.

This is a more formalized effort at charging readers than their previous go, something called “PG+”, which failed miserably in its feeble attempt to entice readers with exclusive content for which they would be charged a fee. Meanwhile, the bulk of the PG’s web site was still fully available to legions of freeloaders. What the PG apparently gleaned from this experiment is that nobody’s going to pay for filet mignon when the buffalo wings are free.

Especially Pittsburghers, who love their buffalo wings, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about filet mignon.

I’ve been somewhat derisive in my comments about the PG since I launched this new blog (in sharp contrast to my previous blog, in which I gushed shamelessly, and made something of a running joke about “our news partners over at the Post-Gazette”), but the fact of the matter is that The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette one of the nation’s best papers, with a rich and varied roster of talented writers, reporters, and editors. Pittsburgh is fortunate to have such a strong and articulate voice as its primary news outlet. Some cities aren’t so lucky. We are, and this region is the better for it.

The PG also carries with it the distinct advantage of having nothing whatever to do with Richard Mellon Scaife, the local media magnate who is something of a Dollar General version of Rupert Murdoch, if Rupert Murdoch were a nothing more than a commodity that could be cheapened down in some Chinese sweatshop, wrapped in loose cellophane, affixed with a BOGO sticker, and put on the shelf next to those 12-inch dinner tapers that burn the whole way down after only eight minutes.

With this latest move to charge its readers, belated though it is, the PG admits at long last that what they produce has value, and that they are not afraid that readers will desert them if they dare to charge them a small fee for something that is very expensive to produce. It’s also an acknowledgement that the advertiser-based web model that was touted by new media tech prognosticators as the future of newspapers and magazines has been an abject failure, leading to the collapse of some great American newspapers and periodicals, the devaluation of writing and the writers who produce it, and a decline in editorial standards that would leave H. L. Mencken to wonder what it was that went so horribly wrong in an America that simply accepts that people who make a living as writers don’t seem to have the ability to construct a simple, declarative, grammatically-correct English sentence anymore.

In my defense, I don’t make a living at this.

But I digress.

The truth of the matter is that the customer does not respect anything given to them for free. This is a lesson that I learned from 40 years in the business world, but it applies just as well to journalism. People know instinctively that nobody’s going to just give them something of value. There is something about a transaction involving legal tender, about the passing along of hard-earned money in exchange for something, that confers value on the thing being obtained. If no money changes hands, then the assumption on the part of the receiving party is that you are dumping something on them that has no intrinsic value to you, otherwise you would demand payment. This is as true for a plastic drinking cup with the PG logo on it as it is for an eight-part investigative piece on corruption in the Pennsylvania legislature that took 15 months and three reporters to produce.

I’m gratified that the Post-Gazette has finally found the courage to do what so many other newspapers have been doing for several years now. I’ll certainly sign up for my subscription, because I value reading what the Post-Gazette has to offer.

But I also think that the Post-Gazette deserves an editor who is willing to lead the way through the minefield of 21st century journalism, instead of waiting to see how it works out for others before jumping into the fray. In this, David Shribman came within an eyelash of bringing the PG to its knees because — rather than being bold and doing what needed to be done in order to keep the paper fiscally solvent — he rode the drunken bandwagon of flawed Internet-centric conventional wisdom that dictated that readers would flee in droves if the PG had the audacity to actually charge people money for the very thing that makes the Post-Gazette worth a damn; its journalism.

But the techies at the PG apparently have Shribman’s ear — which accounts for the bulk of the more cringe-worthy aspects of the PG web site, whose itimization I will forego for purposes of staying on point — and who were probably instrumental in convincing Shribman to hold on to a 17-year-old editorial giveaway promotion long after its effectiveness had been eclipsed by its utter failure to produce the much-needed revenue that might have saved a couple of jobs along the way — not to mention the reduction of Post-Gazette deliveries to a region only slightly larger than the 412 area code. Communities like Butler, Indiana, Kittanning, Uniontown, Connellsville, Weirton, and Waynesburg apparently aren’t important to Shirbman; never mind that there are people in those towns that actually prefer a more professional paper like the PG over one of the “Trib Live” shit-rags that are available locally. Maybe if Shribman were more invested in this region …

Of course, I happen to think that a Pittsburgh paper needs a Pittsburgh editor, not some Boston transplant who is so out of touch with the people of southwestern Pennsylvania that, in a rare show of emotion on the KD/PG Sunday Edition in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, was more visibly upset over the fact that Sandusky managed to thrive for over a decade in the precious ivy-covered halls of academia than he was over the plight of Sandusky’s victims.

A Pittsburgh editor wouldn’t have reacted as though his world no longer made sense because Penn State didn’t live up to some fantasy that academics are somehow the gatekeepers of morality. A Pittsburgh editor would have seen to it that the PG led the coverage of the Sandusky scandal, not just for the region, but for the nation, rather than passing it off to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times.

I can’t help but wonder why Shribman doesn’t do us all a favor and retire. He could spend his days walking barefoot on the beach on Nantucket without having to deal with the pressures of running a daily big-city newspaper (not to mention having to put up with surly bloggers), and maybe spend his nights writing some high-minded tome in which he wrings his hands about how the American body politic has become a rocky place where the seed of Great Society liberalism can find no purchase.

And we might get an editor with Pittsburgh blood running in his veins and the chops to build a solid foundation for success in the 21st century for “One of America’s Great Newspapers.”

It’s win-win.

The Rodman Interview

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published September 11, 2013

Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman has just returned from his second trip to North Korea, where he had something of a romp with his pal, Kim Jong-un, the communist régime’s leader. In a Tofu 2.0 exclusive, Rodman has agreed to sit down for a formal interview, his first since returning from the Hermit Kingdom.

Tofu 2.0: Mr. Rodman, welcome.

Rodman: Thanks, man.

2.0: How are you feeling, did you get some rest?

Rodman: Yeah, man, I’m pretty much over the jet lag now.

2.0: Good, good. As I’m sure you are well aware, Mr. Rodman, North Korea is a closed society, and very little information about everyday life there manages to trickle out. You’re one of the few westerners who has been there — more than once, in fact — and I’m interested in your impressions of how things are over there. We’ve heard the reports about mass starvation and deprivation in the countryside. Did you see anything like that during your visits?

Rodman: Hell no, Dave, that’s just a bunch of propaganda. Everybody I saw in the streets looked pretty cool. Short, but cool, but I guess everybody over there’s short, even in South Korea and Japan, so that’s the way it is, you feel me? And Kim and I went to a couple of stores, just so I could see. And you know what, they had plenty of food in the stores. Fruit, vegetables, canned stuff. They even had Twinkies, and you know for a long time you couldn’t even get them here in America. ‘Course, the “sell by” dates were all in 2007, but listen, Twinkies last forever, man.

2.0: Were you able to talk to any people on the street?

Rodman: Yeah, man, I did, and you know what, everybody’s down with Kim, man, they think he’s really cool, they really love him, and they think, like, he can control the weather, ‘n’ shit …

2.0: They think he can control the weather?

Rodman: Yeah, man, like sometimes I think he can, too. You know, when we were out on his boat, the sky got real dark, and the wind started pickin’ up, and he called a couple of his generals up on deck, and they were jabberin’ back and forth, and Kim was waving his arms at the sky, and next thing you know, the sun was out ‘n’ shit, man, it was really cool, and everybody on deck started clapping.

2.0: Wow …

Rodman: Yeah, so like, I’m not sure he actually did anything, but I can see how people can get to thinking that he’s got these mystical powers.

2.0: So you were out on his boat?

Rodman: Yeah, man, a big yacht, you should see the size of this thing. He likes to take it off shore for deep sea fishing, but we just went out a couple of miles so he could show it off to me. He likes to show off his stuff.

2.0: Kim lives pretty well, then?

Rodman: Well, yeah, man, he’s like the president, man, you know, so he’s got all the shit he needs. Plus, he’s got all these army generals around that are doin’ stuff for him all the time.

2.0: Let’s talk about your diplomatic efforts for a minute. The State Department hasn’t been able to make much headway with North Korea, especially in the area of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and the threat they pose to the entire region. The North Koreans have rebuffed every American proposal, both from John Kerry and from Hillary Clinton before him. Yet you seem to have cracked through the wall, talking directly with Kim Jong-un. Have you taken advantage of your relationship with him to broach any of these subjects?

Rodman: Hell, no, man, my only goal here is to arrange a basketball game between America and North Korea, you know, like the ping-pong shit that Kissinger did with China, and next thing you know Nixon’s sippin’ tea with Chairman Mao. That’s what I want to do.

2.0: So, you see yourself as an advance man for President Obama? You have your basketball game, and then he can come over to Pyongyang and go toe-to-toe with Kim?

Rodman: Now you got it, man. Jesus, man, you’re the only guy in the media who gets me. Yeah, I’m out there softenin’ up Kim, lettin’ him know that not all Americans are cocksuckers like Bush and Cheney, and givin’ him a look at what real Americans are like. Also, see, I’m workin’ both sides here. I’m lettin’ regular Americans see what Kim is like, that he’s not a bad guy, that he’s not some kinda crackpot.

2.0: You have some authority in this area, of judging what is and isn’t a crackpot, then?

Rodman: Damn straight, I do, man. I mean, my life speaks for itself.

2.0: No argument here. Now, you spent some time with Kim and his family on this last trip …

Rodman: Yeah, man, and I think that’s the thing that I want to get out here. I was with Kim and his wife and kids, and you know, that’s something else people need to know about. He’s a regular guy, with a family, and the same problems every family has, you know? Except that he’s got all this power. He and Obama aren’t that different, you know.

2.0: You mean because they’re both family men?

Rodman: Right, right. You know, Kim’s a funny guy, too, he laughs all the time. And he’s real good with his kids, a really good father. And his wife, she’s like this little porcelain thing, you know? They’re like a couple of love-struck teenagers when they’re together.

2.0: That’s all well and good, Mr. Rodman, but the fact remains that North Korea is one of the most repressive régimes on the planet. It’s ranked at the bottom of all countries in terms of respect for democratic institutions, and both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported severe restrictions of civil liberties and human rights in North Korea …

Rodman: Well, Kim says that that’s all bullshit, and from what I’ve seen, I think he may be on to something. The west just doesn’t get this guy, and, you know, when governments don’t understand something, they hate it and want to wipe it out. That’s what’s goin’ on here, man. I’ve seen with my own eyes that people are doin’ OK there, and that it’s not some kind of gulag place. You know, the streets are spotless, and that’s more than you can say about America. We got shit all over the place … soda cans, paper, cigarette butts, Happy Meals … you can’t walk down the street here without there bein’ some trash all over. Not over there, though, they …

2.0: Wait a minute … you’re saying that we should look the other way at human rights violations because their streets are clean?

Rodman: Like my mamma always told me, man, neatness counts. She used to say, “Dennis, honey, neatness is the first sign of class.” That’s why me and Madonna didn’t work out, if you must know. She said I was too much of a neat freak for her. You should see her place, man, she lives like a fuckin’ pig, shit all over the place, you’d think it would kill her to rinse out a fuckin’ glass after she’s used it …

2.0: I think we’re getting off track here …

Rodman: Yeah, man, OK, I’m cool, I get it, I was just trying to make a point about how it wouldn’t kill America to clean up some, you know.

2.0: All right. So, what else can you tell us about Kim the man?

Rodman: Well, you already know he likes basketball. And golf, he likes golf, too. He’s into western music. He loves Eric Clapton, for instance. I’ve been tryin’ to turn him on to some good hip-hop, but you gotta feel that, you know, and I don’t think he’s got it in him for that. But you know, myself, I’ve been tryin’ to get into some North Korean shit, too, just ’cause it helps us understand each other.

2.0: What kind of music do North Koreans listen to?

Rodman: Well, here, check it out, man, see for yourself. He’s given me a couple of albums of North Korean stuff to listen to, and there’s this one I want you to hear.

(Rodman gets up and goes across the room to the shelf and pulls out an LP.)

Rodman: They’ve just got vinyl over there, you know, no MP3s, no CDs, nothing like that …

2.0: So, that’s just another indication how technologically backward they are …

Rodman: No, man, it’s not. Everybody knows vinyl is better than digital, man, that’s why LPs are making a comeback. Kim knows that, too, and so they stuck with it. When he started giving me records to listen to, I had to go out and buy a turntable, because I haven’t had one for years. Here, listen to this …

(The music starts …)

Rodman: The album’s called No Motherland Without You, Precious Leader, by the North Korean Army Choir. What do you think?

2.0: Hmmm … it’s … it’s really martial, isn’t it?

Rodman: Yeah, I know, it’s hard to get your head around, but I really need to get into this shit, man. I was thinking maybe some reefer would help smooth off the rough edges, you know?

2.0: I’m not sure I’d want to listen to this high. Can I see the cover?

Rodman: Sure, man, here …

2.0: Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people on the cover of an album before.

Rodman: Well, it’s the Army Choir, man, and there’s like 600 of ’em.

2.0: I can see that. What’s this sticker, here?

Rodman: Oh, that says “Contains the hit single: ‘A Cry Rises Up Over the Land From All the Workers to Rejoice in the Miraculous Birth of the Dear Child of Our Precious Leader, Kim Jong-un.'”

2.0: You can read Korean?

Rodman: Just a little. Kim’s wife has been teaching me, as a surprise for Kim. He threw a banquet for me the night before I left, and I read my toast to him from 3×5 cards, and when I was done, I handed the cards to him, and he saw it was in Korean, and he almost shit himself.

2.0: I’ll bet he did.

Rodman: Yeah, man, it was cool, you should have seen it.

2.0: Well, I guess that about wraps up our interview. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.

Rodman: No prob, Dave, it was great. Thanks, and you know, maybe next time I go over there, you can come along and I’ll get you in with Kim, and you can interview him.

2.0: If you can pull that off, I’m game.

Rodman: Yeah, let me work on that.

2.0: OK, great. Listen, turn off that music, will ya? I can’t listen to that shit …

Rodman: Yeah, man, I know what you mean.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 30, 2013

The Post-Gazette’s Tony Norman writes in his column today about what Martin Luther King might have to say to President Obama 50 years after King’s stirring speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, had King not been assassinated in Memphis in April of 1968.

“As the nation’s first African-American president, Mr. Obama had to know that comparisons to King would not be flattering in the very week he is contemplating a military strike against yet another Arab nation,” Norman writes. He then goes on to speculate that King “would have said bluntly whether he considers Mr. Obama’s tenure the culmination of the hopes and dreams he articulated on that humid day in August a half century ago, or a repudiation of those values because of the political expediency every president engages in.” This is followed by something of a small litany of the good and the bad of the Obama presidency, as it would be viewed by an 84-year old Martin Luther King.

These kinds of “what if” scenarios are fun to poke around at. I mean, how many of us have speculated about what a JFK second term might have produced? Would he have escalated in Vietnam the way Johnson did? Would the Civil Rights movement have progressed more swiftly under Kennedy or might it have stalled? And would 1968 have brought the Democratic Party to the brink of splitting apart after eight years of JFK the way it did at the end of LBJ’s tenure? And who would have been elected that year?

Even though it’s an essentially meaningless exercise, this kind of spitballin’ makes for lively discussion.

But in Tony’s column today, it seems as though the only thing that is different from the world in which we live today is that Martin Luther King did not die at the hands of James Earle Ray in 1968. Everything else is the same. Barack Obama is still the president, we still have the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party has still skewed far to the right, immigrants are still being demonized, the middle class has still been eviscerated … everything is the same, except that Martin Luther King lives.

Full disclosure: I know Tony Norman. He lives around the corner from me.

And I happen to know that his wife, Ann, is a huge Star Trek fan. Thus, I know that Tony has probably had to sit through enough episodes of the 5 or 6 Trek series and the dozen or so movies to realize what happens when the crew of The Enterprise travels back through time. There is generally much discussion about not doing anything that might “change the timeline” (these discussions usually occur right before they go ahead and do it anyway) because one can never tell what kind of an impact an insignificant act — or even one that on the surface seems to be beneficial — might have on future events.

You might, for example, intervene during Hitler’s mother’s pregnancy in order to prevent Hitler from being born, only to allow for someone else to come along who is even worse than Hitler, who actually manages to defeat the Allies in World War II, and you’d be reading this blog in German right now.

Zum Beispiel

Anyway, I know that Tony is fully up to speed on the delicacy of this business, and so I am puzzled as to why he would violate it so blatantly in his column.

Martin Luther King was enough of a pivotal figure in American history that had he not been killed in Memphis, it likely would have triggered an entire cascade of events which, in 50 years time, would have resulted in a United States of America that has the potential of being anywhere from only slightly different to vastly different than the one in which we live today. But I don’t think that King’s presence in it would be the only difference.

We simply cannot predict what might occur if we displace one element of the past.

Or can we?

After his speech before the Memphis garbage workers, King flew to Washington to meet with recently-announced presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, and became one of Kennedy’s key advisors. In fact, it was King who advised Bobby that it would be better if he were in Sacramento on the night of the California primary, rather than Los Angeles. Although King was unaware of it when he made the suggestion, this allowed Kennedy to avoid Sirhan Sirhan, who was planning to shoot him at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. As it happens, Sirhan would be killed in a Los Angeles crosswalk the following morning by a car driven by a very stoned Charles Manson, whose erratic behavior prompted his arrest. Manson was eventually tried and convicted of vehicular homicide, and sent to prison. In one fell swoop, this removed Sirhan as a threat to Kennedy, and Manson as a threat to Sharon Tate and Leo and Rosemary LaBianca.

With the Democratic nomination secured, Kennedy is swept into the White House in the general election, handily defeating Republican candidate Richard Nixon. Having gone down twice in eight years to a different Kennedy, Nixon has a public meltdown that makes his 1962 “you’re not gonna have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” remarks seem positively sane, and is taken away in a strait jacket, but not before responding to a question put to him by UPI reporter Helen Thomas:

“Mr. Nixon, what are your future plans?”, Thomas asks, to which Nixon hisses, “Fuck you, you irritable little bitch,” before being stuffed into the waiting ambulance.

Kennedy manages to get Moshe Dyan and Yasir Arafat to the bargaining table, bringing about peace in the Middle East. This makes the United States a friend to all Arab and Muslim peoples, with one noted imam calling the United States “The Great Angel”, a moniker which catches on throughout the Muslim world. Bobby then asks King to personally intercede in Iran, which he does, asking the Shah to step down peacefully, allowing him to move to Miami, making way for a pro-western democracy to take the reigns of power in Terhan. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran from his exile in France to hail the United States as “a true friend of Islam.”

Even though cheap Arab oil flows freely to the West throughout the ’70s and ’80s, American scientists still manage to develop both an electric car which runs on hydrogen (which consumers can fill with fuel from the garden hose, and whose only exhaust is oxygen), as well as a new nanotechnology involving tiny ionic molecules which, when released into the atmosphere, hunt down carbon dioxide, breaking it down into carbon (which precipitates to earth) and oxygen (which enriches the atmosphere), thereby reversing the build-up of this greenhouse gas, effectively putting the breaks on climate change.

Of course, with the good, there also comes the bad. The pirate raids of ’85 and ’86, which lay siege to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the Baltimore/DC area were a huge problem for President William D. Gazatchorn, a progressive Republican from New Mexico, who called out the Marines to hunt down the pirates who were raping and pillaging up and down the eastern seaboard. They eventually managed to capture the pirates’ mercurial leader, a Venezuelan thug named Hugo Chavez, who, until his death earlier this year, was housed in a military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Equally bad was The Beatles’ ill-fated 1988 reunion (Mark David Chapman was swept out to sea on an ocean current in Hawaii while surfing, and never made it to New York to kill John Lennon), culminating in an album (“Caustic Soda”) that was panned by the critics, and virtually ignored by the public. Lennon and George Harrison got into a fist-fight on stage at the Omni Center in Atlanta, thereby aborting both the tour and the reunion. Lennon and Yoko Ono split up in an acrimonious divorce the following year. She ended up with the bulk of his fortune, including his half of the rights to the Lennon/McCartney catalog. He was briefly married to Sharon Tate in the ’90s. Since 2002, Lennon has been living as a recluse on Mallorca.

“He’s a gifted musician,” Martin Luther King observed about Lennon. “But to be honest, I’m more of an Otis Redding fan.”

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 21, 2013

I lost a dear friend last week, when Bernie Lipovich died after a brief illness. I last spoke to her in June, after my mother had passed. As was typical, we spoke on the phone for about three hours, talking about virtually every topic under the sun, until the battery finally ran down on my phone, and we had to hang up. I’d fully intended to call her on her birthday, July 26th — even charged up my phone so that we could jabber — but with my night schedule, once the middle of the week rolls around, I tend to lose all track of what day it is, and I completely forgot. Next thing I knew, I woke up to a voicemail from one of her nieces, asking me to call her back. I remember thinking, “This can’t be good.”

It wasn’t.

I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of her close friends and confidants.

I met Bernie back in 1986, when we were both working for MCS, Incorporated, the software firm that took a quarter of a century out of my life, and even more out of hers. I was Patton to her Ike on what the firm referred to as “The Glasrock Project” — a large-scale development of a customized version of MCS’s flagship product, MestaMed, for a large client (Glasrock Home Health Care) who wanted more feature functionality than what MestaMed was offering at that particular time in the product’s lifecycle. There were ten developers on the Glasrock team, and sometimes it seemed as though Bernie and I were the designated adults. It was an eclectic group, no two ways about it, but in spite of a lot of bumps in the road, we produced some fine code.

We really got to know each other during 1987, when Bernie and I — along with Harry Fowkes, another analyst on the team — spent most of the year essentially commuting from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, where Glasrock’s headquarters were located, in the northeast suburb of Norcross. We’d catch the first flight out of what was then called Greater Pitt on Monday morning (it was literally the first flight – the 5:50am Delta flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was the initial flight out of the airport on Monday mornings), and would come home on Friday nights. And then, for me at least, there were the weekends at home, updating the four DIGITAL VAX computers on the cluster (one each in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Costa Mesa, California), using a dumb terminal connected to a 1200 baud modem over my home phone line for hours and hours at a time (I remind you, this was 1987). This all left me with very little time for a life, which was probably a good thing, because my life up until I started at MCS involved a lot of drinking and other vices that I was starting to get a little long in the tooth for.

Those weeks in Atlanta consisted of some very long days. We worked with the Glasrock personnel in the daytime, but our nights were spent shaking the bugs out of the batch process we had designed that updated the database with all of the transactions that had been done during the day, printed the bills and statements, and produced reports enough to fell a national forest per month. As this was being designed and written as we were going along, it was riddled with bugs, natch, all of which had to be ferreted out. The other seven programmers were in Pittsburgh coding away, pretty much without supervision, while we were down in Atlanta. At around 6:00pm, I would pull down from Pittsburgh all of the changes they had done that day, and compile them into the system. Bernie, Harry and I would then sit in adjoining cubicles and work into the wee hours, with Bernie running and testing the programs, and yelling over the cubicle walls what the problems were, and I would go into the code and fix them (or would write fix programs when that was necessary).

Anyone who happened to venture into the area where we were working would marvel as Bernie and I spoke to one another over the walls of the cubicles in a language that was bizarre to the uninitiated, to say the least: “The DDLs in MCS Util are duped again”, “Form build’s arrays went past proc”, “BP Star isn’t linking to the SMG globals”, “Make me an FDL for PBA header”, “Zone A’s locked. Do you have it?”, “Bill daily isn’t chaining”, “I think Bup Diddly is looping,” and so on. Often we’d just spell out program and file names to one another, which probably made it sound as though we were speaking in rapid-fire staccatos of random letters. I suppose we were, actually.

Nick, our company president, would come down to Atlanta from time to time to see what was doing, and to his credit, would stay up all night with us as we worked, rocking on his heels and listening to the gibberish that Bernie and I were speaking to one another. He’d just shake his head and smile. He knew we were trying to work a miracle.

We’d do this until about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning — sometimes as late as 4:00 — , then stop at an all-night Applebee’s on the way back to the hotel, try to get some shut-eye, and then be back at Glasrock at 8:00 to start the whole thing all over again.

You can take the measure of a person when you’re down in the trenches with them long term, and Bernie and I found that we shared both a sense of humor and an utter disdain for people in high positions who were essentially empty shells — and Glasrock had its share of empty shells in those days. Their work ethic, in as much as it was an ethic at all, was clearly not in line with the more traditional approach to working that Bernie and I were accustomed to.

We’d planned to “go live” on the new system at the end of July, a goal that would not be met, partly because of ongoing problems, and partly because of the unending stream of system enhancements Glasrock was submitting that were not covered in the original specs. Still, when 4:30 pm on July 31st arrived, and Bernie, Harry, and I were sitting in our cubicles, hammering away at our keyboards, we suddenly heard, “pop …”

And then, “pop … pop.” And “pop”, “pop … pop …”

The champagne had started already started to flow to celebrate the fact that we had “gone live” with the new system, even though in reality we were weeks away from even considering such a thing. Still, to the Glasrockers, the designated day had arrived, and so it was time to celebrate. Bernie would have none of this nonsense. When Ken Davis came over with a glass of champagne for her, she didn’t even look up at him.

“Oh, c’mon,” Ken said, “you people work too damn hard.”

“You people don’t work at all,” I told him. “By working too hard, Bernie and I are restoring the cosmic equilibrium. You wouldn’t want to upset the balance of the universe, now would you Ken?” Bernie broke out in one of her hearty guffaws at that, and Ken slinked off to join the other partiers. Bernie was too kind a person to say anything mean to someone’s face. She wouldn’t have dreamed of engaging in anything like directly insulting another human being. I, on the other hand, would dream about such things all the time. Thus, as it was a role that I was naturally inclined to, and as Bernie was incapable of filling it, I seized the opportunity. Bernie would be the nice one, and I’d be the … well, the other one. Watching from the sidelines as I took no prisoners, Bernie secretly and thoroughly enjoyed even my most caustic observations.

And Glasrock, of course, was fertile ground for caustic observations. Bernie and I had never seen anything like it. People would disappear for hours on end for long, expensive lunches all on the company tab. The bottom panel of the pop machine slid out to reveal a fully stocked bar, which was open for business most of the workday. For old-school people like us, it was a little difficult to deal with.

And, of course, from time to time we would have to participate. They were the clients, after all, and were paying the bills. Good business dictated that we at least maintain friendly working relationships with them, even though the term “working” rarely entered into it.

Accordingly, there would be lavish dinners at some of Atlanta’s finest restaurants, with as many as a dozen people attending — again, all on the company tab. Once we even took in a road company performance of the play, Greater Tuna, which had just completed a smash run on Broadway. God only knows how much those tickets must have cost for the 15 or 16 people who went that night. And while both Bernie and I appreciated a good meal at a great restaurant as much as the next person, these affairs were a bit much for us, especially since it meant we were falling behind on the work. Ken Davis, Glasrock’s flamboyant project leader, would generally preside over these bacchanals, directing everything from the head of the table, even down to the dinner conversation.

The topic on one of these occasions was, “What did you want to be when you were growing up?”. Ken went around the table, prompting everyone to relate for the rest of us what they thought they would be doing with their lives when they were kids. Bernie didn’t have any more use for trivial conversation than I did, but when her turn came around, she dutifully and cheerfully participated, as was her nature. At which point, Ken turned to me, and said, “Now David, what did you want to be when you were growing up?”

I glanced across the table at Bernie. She got that twinkle in her eye that she would get when she knew I was about to say something outrageous, but didn’t have a clue as to what it might be. I took a long, slow sip from my Scotch.

“Rita Moreno”, I gushed, gently laying my hand on Ken’s. Bernie disintegrated into waves of laughter. For years afterward, she would remind me of that evening.

There were lots of other Glasrock-related adventures that summer, of course, including the Friday of July 4th weekend, when all of the flights out of Atlanta to locations north and east were delayed due to widespread severe thunderstorms. The Pittsburgh flights kept getting pushed further and further back into the evening, until around midnight, when the last flight to Pittsburgh was cancelled, effectively stranding Bernie, Harry and myself in the Atlanta airport on a holiday weekend. Bernie didn’t do well when she was inconvenienced, and this was an inconvenience of Jovian proportions.

I don’t remember now if it was me or Harry who noticed that there was a flight to Cleveland leaving in about half an hour. But we came up with the idea of flying there, renting a car, and driving to Pittsburgh, which is what we ended up doing. We got to Cleveland around 3:00 am, picked up the rental car, stopped for something to eat at the only place we found along the Interstate that was open (a donut shop), and headed out for a long, wild, and zany ride to Pittsburgh, with Harry behind the wheel, me riding shotgun, and Bernie in the back seat. We got back to the airport in Pittsburgh and our cars right at daybreak. It was another night to remember, but I’m saving that one for my memoirs.

I said she was kind, and she was. She was the most thoughtful, helpful, generous person I think I’ve ever known. She was never too short on time that she could not take a minute to help someone. She remembered birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events. She cared about peoples’ families, she’d send a card or call with good wishes when someone was sick, she’d somehow anticipate favors so that you wouldn’t have to ask.

The only thing I’m aware of that she actually hated was stupidity, which is another thing that bound us.

And there was plenty of stupidity to go around when, in 1998, MCS’s parent company (Mestek) got the bright idea that they could “grow the company” better than the quite considerable growth that we were generating all on our own, with Nick keeping them at arm’s length. Suddenly, Nick was out, and the first in a succession of waves of increasingly inept CEOs, along with their equally inept management teams, appeared on the scene, like a small carcinoma, which, over time, grew into a full-blown metastatic cancer that eventually did the company in.

As incompetence, arrogance, and downright skullduggery reigned supreme at a company whose name changed almost as regularly as its CEOs, Bernie took it all very hard. She had a traditional approach to her career, and came to work every day in order to work, dammit, and “these kids are just playing games, like they’re still in high school,” she’d say. As the increasing corporate stupidity started trickling down to where it began to interfere with her ability to do her job efficiently, it became more and more difficult for her, and she started talking about retiring. Still though, she seemed to double-down on working, keeping her head down and just focusing on the job at hand.

In this, she was much wiser than I was, as I felt the need to mix it up, throwing the occasional Molotov cocktail at corporate management, as I did when one of our more notorious CEOs was sent packing by the board of directors, and I sent around an email to all employees, saying how this was “a great day” for the company. I paid for that one, of course.

When she finally did retire, in early 2007, we threw what was probably the most enjoyable shindig in the company’s history, at D’Imperio’s restaurant. People who had long since left the firm came back from out of the woodwork when they heard that it was Bernie’s retirement. It was a very special evening, with food, drink, speeches, and young Jim Sirianni getting somewhat inebriated and being quite entertaining, as I recall.

Bernie was at the center of a great outpouring of love that night, and deservedly so.

Some of us were worried about her actually retiring, though, because her work was always so important to her. We needn’t have. She threw herself into her retirement with the same gusto that had served her so well during her work life. She did some traveling, she got to spend more time with her beloved nieces and nephews, and all of their children, and sometimes she did absolutely nothing. “Dave,” she would tell me, “I just never imagined I would like retirement so much. You really ought to try it.” It was clear that she was enjoying this new phase of her life.

She was one of the most naturally intelligent people I’ve ever known. She coupled this with a genuine compassion for others, a wicked sense of humor, and an innate ability to cut away all of the bullshit to get to that little ticking thing at the center of everything that really matters.

She was one of the core group of readers of my first blog, One Man’s Tofu. She especially loved my caustic political observations, and would call me when I wrote one that struck a particular chord with her. When I finally hung up blogging last year, after five years of almost daily output, she would tell me how much she missed reading it. I started this new blog on the very week that she died, so she never saw it. But I’m sure that she would have been checking it out today to read whatever I might have written, had this particular essay been unnecessary.

And I wish that it had been.

She went far too soon, at 69, and just six and a half years into her retirement. She worked too hard in her career for her victory lap to be so short, and she certainly deserved to spend more time in the loving embrace of her family, which meant the world to her. It’s not fair — to her, or to the rest of us.

But Bernie would be the first to tell you that life isn’t fair. She walked this earth with her eyes wide open; taking life as it came to her, with few expectations, and no delusions. She had a lasting effect upon anyone who wandered into her sphere of influence.

At the cemetery, her niece, Kathy, gave a moving eulogy, about what it was like to grow up with “Aunt Bernie”.

“It occurred to me that everyone should have an Aunt Bernie,” she began, and went on to describe her first-hand experience as a wide-eyed little girl entering the exciting world of her aunt on those occasions when she would spend extended periods staying with Bernie. She spoke of all the fun they had together, of entering Bernie’s inner sanctum, and what an adventure it all was for her. She choked back the tears several times as she spoke of that inescapable kindness and generosity that were that were woven into the vary fabric of Bernie’s DNA. “Yes, everyone should have an Aunt Bernie,” she said in conclusion. “But the real lesson, I think, is that everyone should be an Aunt Bernie to someone in their own lives.”

I said a lot about Bernie in this essay, but I wish I’d said that.

Those of us who were lucky enough to have had Bernie Lipovich in our lives had the very personification of kindness, generosity, humor, thoughtfulness, and love right in our midst. This is not a bad list of qualities for each one of us to strive for in our daily lives. Bernie showed us the way every single day.

For myself, all I know is that Bernie Lipovich enriched my life in ways that I am unable to express, and self-expression has never been a problem for me. I’m going to miss her terribly.

I suspect I won’t be the only one.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 20, 2013

I’ve only had this new blog going for a week, and it is already having a huge and far-reaching impact upon the tri-state media landscape — a real “game changer”, as Arianna Huffington likes to say.

Just one short week after I delivered a blistering review of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s new policy of including annoying informational links in all of the news stories and columns published on the PG’s web site, I happened to pull up PG columnist Tony Norman’s Tuesday piece today, and lo, they were gone. Not a single one appeared anywhere in the entire column. Reading Norman’s piece today was a genuine pleasure, as it was entirely devoid of the insulting little annoyances that have plagued his, and all the other PG columns of late. Which is as it should be.

A quick scan of recently published news articles on the PG’s web page reveals that the informational links no longer appear in any of those as well (although they still appear in articles published earlier). Clearly, the PG has reconsidered the wisdom of cluttering up their online news site with these links. At a minimum, they have pulled this hideous feature back into the shop in order to evaluate how it can be more intelligently implemented.

Thus, in my very first post, I have managed to bring the PG’s editorial board to its knees, forcing them to rescind a horribly ill-advised new feature, in a withering public humiliation for increasingly beleaguered Editor-in-Chief, David Shribman.

Naturally, I take great pride in this stunning achievement — it is as though Tofu 2.0 rolled down the Boulevard of the Allies in a Sherman tank, shaking the foundations and rattling the windows of the Post-Gazette building, and sending the Information Systems pinheads who implemented this dreadful feature scurrying from the building like Alabama cockroaches when the light is flipped on.

In one devastating and ignominious blow, I scaled the ivy-choked walls of editorial insanity and put a prominent hash-mark in the column of journalistic common sense — bright, bold, and beautiful, high above the heads of the teeming masses, for all to see, leaving the Post-Gazette editorial board to slither away in shame, lick its wounds, and consider exactly what the new game in town is, and who is its MVP.

As managing editor of Tofu 2.0, I vow that this blog will continue to fight the good fight against journalistic excess wherever I may find it.

Well, except here, of course.

It is the least that I can do for you, the reader.

You’re welcome.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 18, 2013

“August, die she must.”

            — Paul Simon
The stock markets took quite a battering this past week, with all of the major indicies down substantially across the board. August of 2013 has not been a friendly month for equities. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, up nearly 20% since the first of the year, is now down over 4% just since August 2, with 1.5% of that drop coming just this past Thursday.

Is this a sign that the big 2013 rally has run its course?

Let’s take a look.

Not that I’m an expert, or anything, like the inimitable Jim Cramer of CNBC fame, but still …

Many analysts think that this rally is artificial, and largely the result of the Federal Reserve’s program of “quantitative easing”, or “QE” (We have seen QE1, which was that $700 billion thing back in 2009 when the economy had tanked; QE2 was the November 2010 start of an additional purchase of $600 billion in securities). There’s no question that the influx of all that government money saved this economy from another 1929-style implosion, but it rankled the sensibilities of many people in that the very bastards who caused the crisis of 2008/2009 with all their criminal hubris and outright deception seemed to be the very same people who were benefiting the most from all this government largesse. Obscene bonuses were still being paid, now with government money, and nobody seemed to be going to jail, while the economy was hemorrhaging jobs, people were losing their homes, and companies that were once the very symbols of American economic might were trampling over one another in a rush to the bankruptcy courts.

That most of the people who orchestrated this — well, even disaster doesn’t quite come up to it — are still living comfortable lives, skinny-dipping in their kidney-shaped pools full of ill-gotten cash, is reason enough for rounding them all up, marching them into the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in chains (these people, after all, meet every element of the definition of toxic waste), and sealing up the entrance with 200 yards of reinforced concrete so that they can remain there until the sun swells into a red giant and engulfs the earth.

But I digress.

QE3, which we’re in right now, and have been since September of 2012, is the Fed’s program of purchasing $85 billion worth of bonds every month in order to stimulate the economy. Let’s repeat that, both for emphasis, and so I can use both the bold and italic editing characteristics, which, quite frankly, I love to do: $85 billion per month.

Now, 11 months into the program, the Fed has already spent $935 billion of the US Treasury’s money (well, actually, all they did was print money as it was needed … they can do that, you know) in a program that is ongoing. According to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, it will continue until economic conditions improve to the point where the Fed believes it is no longer necessary.

If printing oodles of money when you need it sounds to you very much like the sort of thing that a counterfeiter might do, let me just paraphrase my old drinking buddy, Richard Nixon, and say, “When the government does it, it is not illegal.”

Actually, by “drinking buddy”, I mean that I was doing all of the drinking to anesthetize myself against the reality of Nixon in the White House.

And by “drinking”, I mean “taking drugs”.

So with all of this money being pumped into the economy, why have the markets been taking it on the chin lately?

Because economic conditions are improving.

Yes, you read that right, the markets are nosediving on fear among investors that the economy might actually improve to the point where the Fed will find it unnecessary to artificially prop things up by pulling money out of thin air and injecting it into the economy.

If that sounds illogical to you, congratulations. Your mind still works just fine.

We’ve seen this before. In remarks before Congress in June, Bernanke said that if the economy continues to improve (as it has been for some time now, albeit slowly — but still, improvement is improvement, right?), the Fed might decide as early as September of this year to shit-can QE3. Upon hearing those remarks, the markets swooned, as those chattering nabobs on CNBC like to say, and June became the first month of 2013 in which the markets failed to finish higher than they were when the month began.

This widespread panic-in-the-making spurred Bernanke to clarify his remarks, emphasizing that “no, no, fellas, I won’t do anything at all until I see some serious improvements in the economy. Maybe not September. Maybe not ever, so just relax, OK?” This was enough to quell the market’s fears, and the major indices had a glorious July.

But now in August, the markets have started another downward spiral, pulled down by the news that the latest unemployment report shows that new weekly unemployment claims are at their lowest level since October 2007 — before all the shit hit the fan in September of 2008, and well before the markets started their long decline in January of 2008 as the pending catastrophe was being recognized in some quarters. And so what is being called the “consensus of expectation” (formerly known as “conventional wisdom”, until it was realized that there was nothing conventional, nor was there a trace of wisdom in economic commentary) is that Bernanke is going to see this improvement in unemployment as a reason to pull the plug on QE3 next month anyway. Which, again, the “consensus of expectation” believes will cause the economy (well, the markets, anyway, which isn’t the same thing by any means) to start heading downward with the same grace and elegance that typified one of Jean-Claude Killy’s giant slaloms, for those of you whose memories predate the arrival of The Sex Pistols.

In addition to the news on the jobs front, a second report from the Department of Labor released last week indicated that over a wide range of consumer goods and services, prices were starting to improve — a move that directly affects corporate bottom lines. It’s the Fed’s opinion that inflation should be around 2% in an economy where everything is working properly, and it’s starting to head in that direction after a long period of stagnation.

This is good news, of course. These are indications that there is some improvement in the economy. Now, granted there are still a lot of problems, and owing to those, Bernanke will likely take a pass at killing off QE3 next month to give the economy time to get on more solid footing, especially with investors wringing their hands that he’ll cut them off at the knees.

But the Fed has been clear — very clear; unambiguously clear, if you ask me — that they won’t take any steps until there are significant indications that the economy is strengthening on multiple fronts. And unemployment and inflation are only two of those fronts in our complicated, multifaceted economy.

Which means that when QE3 eventually does end, it will be because the economy has improved across the board to the point where it can run on its own again.

That’s good news, right?

I would certainly think so.

Still, there’s this fear (you can say “paranoia”, if you want … if you’re not comfortable using that term, well then, by all means, let me …), or paranoia on the part of Wall Street movers and shakers that when Bernanke cuts off the flow, it’s going to be a bad thing. A very bad thing.

Why should this be? I mean, these people, for the most part, are college-educated (which I am not), and they know a lot of things about the inner workings of the economy (which, it’s probably obvious to some of you that I do not), and still, they fear something that is, for all intents and purposes, good news. I mean, Bernanke has said over and over that QE3 goes away when the economy is strong, and a strong economy is a good thing, right?


Well, no.

See, these bond purchases that the Fed is doing has, for the most part, kept bond prices high, along with low yields (well, except for in June when the bond market collapsed, again largely out of fear that Bernanke was going to take them off the tit). What this business of high bond prices and low yields does (according to people who know about such things) is keeps the cost of borrowing money low (in the form of low interest rates), which helps the bottom line of companies who are leveraged to the hilt.

But right now, bond prices are tanking and yields are rising (all of which makes it more expensive to borrow money) in fear that QE3 will end, which pretty much indicates that whether the Fed continues to pump money in or not, the reality is that it is fear of what might happen that trumps any other factor in bond yields and prices, the cost of borrowing, or anything else on Wall Street, for that matter.

Also, some of the money that the Fed is pumping into bonds trickles into the stock market, which makes shares more attractive. Attractive shares means that more people will purchase stocks on the prospect that share prices will continue to rise. If QE3 ends, the thinking goes, that money will stop its trickle, shares will become unattractive, people will sell their stocks, and the markets will go down as a result.

Of course, even as that trickle continues, the indices have tanked since the beginning of August, all on the fear that QE3 might end. So the reality is that QE3 is not helping anyway, as, once again, it is fear that influences things in the markets far more than what the Fed is or isn’t doing, or may or may not do in September.

It’s as though every single reason that Wall Street can come up with for why they need all of those billions of taxpayer dollars with which to line their pockets is proven false by their very fear that stopping the flow of Fed dollars into the system might send the gravy train careening off the tracks like that spectacular scene in Lawrence of Arabia, in which director David Lean had one chance to film the bombing of a locomotive off the rails and into the desert sand, because to do it again would have been cost-prohibitive, but which came off without a hitch nonetheless and became one of the most awesome (in the true sense of the word, not the way kids use “awesome” these days) scenes in the history of motion picture film.

Again, I digress, but you get my meaning.

Here’s the deal: QE3 keeps bond prices high and yields low (except when it doesn’t), and it also makes share prices rise (except when it doesn’t).

So what I’m getting to is that the whole of the American economy is based on fear and lies.

Spectacular amounts of money are being made and lost in this country every day, not on the merits, but on whim.

Everything is true and nothing is true.

This is no way to run a railroad.

It’s enough to make one take up drinking again.

And by “drinking”, I mean …

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 15, 2013

Antero Resources, an energy company that is fracking its way around Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, is planning to spend over $500 million to build an 80-mile pipeline to suck up copious amounts of Ohio River water, transport it to the fracking fields, transform it into a slurry of sand and toxic chemicals, and blast it into the Marcellus Shale formation at high pressure in order to free up the oil and natural gas that will keep a fossil-fuel-thirsty nation sated until the Marcellus formation, like the Texas oil fields before it, is bled dry.

Antero, brainchild of a group of New York-based private equity firms — and which is currently dodging officials from West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas, who are looking into a July 7th explosion at one of Antero’s wells that killed two and injured six — is looking for a big payday in the form of greatly reduced costs of transporting water, currently via tanker truck, to its wells, which tend to be off the beaten path, in the backwoods and the hollers, well out of sight of environmentalists, reporters, filmmakers, and other anti-fracking malcontents. Water transport costs are currently running Antero somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per well, and the pipeline promises to reduce these costs by as much as two thirds. It takes about 6 million gallons of water to frack a well.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has partially approved a permit to Antero, which the company hopes will eventually allow them to withdraw 3,360 gallons of the mighty Ohio per minute, amounting to about 4.8 million gallons per day. From the intake, the water would travel through a 20-inch steel pipe to several large collection pools, before it is sent through a network of smaller pipes whose mouths would open to the remote fracking fields.

Top management at Antero is tickled plumb to death that they are on the verge of having access to one of the region’s largest and most dependable water supplies, as the tiny creeks, runs, and streams that they’ve been backing their tank trucks up to tend to run a bit on the low side in the summer, which puts a real crimp in their operations, especially when the state steps in to shut down water withdrawal operations because of low creek levels. Which in turn increases their costs, which, as everyone knows, is an anathema to private equity firms, like Trilantic Capital Partners, Warburg Pincus LLC, and Yorktown Partners LLC, who are the main backers of Antero.

But lining the pockets of Antero’s management and investors doesn’t stop at just cost savings. In anticipation of a potentially much bigger windfall, the company has filed with the SEC to force itself to split off Antero’s entire pipeline business — both natural gas and water — into an independent entity, to be called Antero Midstream. Antero proper would then sign a 20-year agreement with Antero Midstream to purchase water for its fracking operations. In a lovely little sweetheart deal, Antero shareholders (the Colorado-based company has announced plans to go public, having filed for an initial public offering in June) would own Antero Midstream, but the private equity boys and Antero’s current management team would retain control of the spinoff, and would receive 50% of the cash distributions generated by Antero Midstream. The shareholders, not so much.

So, for water that they will be sucking out of the Ohio River, at no apparent cost to them (at least as far as I could determine), Antero management and investors will be able to transform that water into mountains of cash for themselves. And all the while, taking an obscene amount of this region’s fresh water, toxifying it, and pumping it back into the ground at high pressure, fouling wells and groundwater that supply drinking water to local communities, and causing seismic “events” from time to time that have all the earmarks of earthquakes. Not to mention fun stuff like well explosions.

Not a bad deal, eh?

But for whom? The Ohio River is a resource that belongs to all of the people. Where were the public hearings before Antero was given what appears to be free and clear access to nearly 5 million gallons of Ohio River water per day? Shouldn’t the people of the region have some kind of voice in this process? There is potentially a lot of money changing hands here (and from the looks of things, from one hand to the other), and since the people of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio are bearing the brunt of the environmental damage, shouldn’t we at least be entitled to a cut? I mean, since we apparently can’t stop this fracking freight train, can we get a share of the profits for the public coffers so that maybe, just maybe we’ll have the wherewithal to mitigate the damage once the Marcellus Shale deposit is bled dry and the Anteros of this world and their shadowy private-equity enablers have moved on to their next money-making rape?

Of as much concern as the environmental damage is the precedent that is being set here by allowing companies like Antero to scratch the surface of building a water transportation infrastructure. Thanks to continued fossil fuel use (which will now continue unabated well into the future, in full view of the melting planetary ice caps, thanks to the noxious fruits of fracking), the abundant water with which our region is so blessed might not be so abundant in the future, once climate change shifts into overdrive and those reliable rains that come from the west decide to see what’s doing up in Canada’s high arctic. This is, of course, after a few years of being drawn down by the frackers, who, once Antero shows the way, will be hauling intake pipes in droves up to the banks of the Ohio, the Allegheny, the Monongahela, the Youghiogheny, the Kiskiminitas, the Beaver, the Mahoning, the Clarion, and virtually every other stream in the region.

Of course, until then an increasingly parched Sun Belt will look enviously to our region, with our rich water resources, to satisfy their thirst. In the not-too-distant future the call will rise up over the land to build water pipelines from the lush northeast to the arid southwest. And who will be there all ready to reap the benefits of water transport, what with all their experience in building water pipelines, than companies like Antero. Not to mention, Range Resoures Corporation, Aqua America, and — wait for it — Exxon Mobil, all of whom have experience in building water pipelines in the Marcellus Shale region (although not on the scale of Antero’s latest proposal), taking fresh water out of our streams and sending it off to their fracking fields so that America can become energy independent.

These companies and their backers are the ones who will be standing on the street corner when the bus arrives, loaded with all of the money ready to be doled out to enterprising capitalists who are willing to step up and embrace the monumental task of balancing America’s water supply, taking from those who have so much, giving to those who have so little. And they’ll make a killing doing it. Especially if in these permits we’re giving them, we also give them some form of rights to the water. But who knows if they’re getting water rights? It isn’t as if there were public hearings on any of this business.

Never mind that our rivers, streams, and lakes in the east will be drawn down right at the time when the rains that replenish them become less reliable because of ongoing fossil fuel use. Fossil fuel use that has been given a new lease on life thanks to hydraulic fracking, tar sands, and other technologies that promise to wring the last few drops of oil out of the planet.

If we were pulling water out of the Ohio River as part of the hydrogen fuel cell process, or some other technology in which water was used as a catalyst for a zero-emission energy source, I’d be right out there manning the pumps. If we had companies backed by private equity firms that were prepared to put half a billion dollars into developing clean, renewable energy technologies, instead of building pipelines to send fresh water into the ground just so we can keep the internal combustion engine fully ensconsed in its tabernacle of a dead American Dream, then I assure you, you’d get no complaint from me.

Meanwhile, China and India both have large research projects already underway to develop just such technologies. They apparently can see that pursuing elaborate and increasingly environment-damaging fossil fuel extraction technologies is a fool’s errand.

Why can’t America see that, too? It’s been 40 years since the wake-up call of the first Arab oil embargo.

We continue to hit the snooze button at our peril.

And, as it happens, everybody else’s peril, too. Because we’re all trapped on this planet together.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 13, 2013

When Tony the Tiger died last week of heart failure at the Grosse Pointe, Michigan Wild Animal Sanctuary at the age of 66, few news organizations noted his passage. Tony had been out of the spotlight for several years, in failing health, and still bitter about having been the centerpiece of ugly publicity in the late 1990s involving accusations from health food lobbyists that he was little more than a shill for sugary breakfast cereals that were largely responsible for the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes in the US and Canada. His testimony before Congress in 1999, in which he inadvertently revealed evidence that executives from Kellogg’s, his long time employer, had willfully dumped tainted corn flakes on the Chinese market, resulting in some 80 deaths, effectively finished him off as a spokesman for the company, and made him a pariah throughout the food industry.

It wasn’t always that way. Born Antonin Socrates Tigropolis at the Athens Zoo on March 14, 1947, young “Tony”, as his mother called him, was the runt of a four-kit litter. His mother doted on him until he was weaned, and then, “Suddenly, it was like, ‘Who the hell are you, get away from me!'”, Tony recalled years later. His litter-mates were hardly supportive, “and, of course, Dad wasn’t around. He was the alpha male at the exhibit, and me and my brother were apparently potential competition for him. Every time I’d come near him, he’d growl, and take a swipe at me”. It was a hellish existence for the youngster, and he carried the scars with him for the rest of his life.

Relief came just after young Antonin’s first birthday, in the form of a swap with the Bronx Zoo in America. “Apparently, Athens got a couple of bison,” Tony recalled in his autobiography, Grrreat Expectations: The Tony the Tiger Story (Knopf, 2005), “in exchange for which, me and Armand, a platypus friend of mine, were crated up and sent to the United States. It was an exciting time, but the passage was pretty rough”.

Tony wasn’t at the Bronx Zoo for long before he was noticed by one of the zookeepers, who also did a clown and magic act for the kids with zoo animals on the weekends. “He called himself ‘The Great Scaloppini’, and he said he’d been looking to add a tiger to his act for some time,” Tony wrote. “My English wasn’t very good, but he saw a lot of potential in me and he took me under his wing.”

Soon, Tony was doing five shows on Saturday and six on Sunday. “We’d developed this standup act,” Tony wrote, “sort of like Martin and Lewis, with me as the straight man. We’d get up on stage, and we’d kill ’em.” Attendance at the zoo skyrocketed on weekends when “Scaloppini & The Tiger” were performing, and soon even some big names were coming to see what all the fuss was about.

“One Sunday, we looked out and there was Bing Crosby”, Tony remembered. “Boy, that really put us under pressure, but we looked out at one point and Mr. Crosby was laughing.” A couple of days later, Tony got a call from Crosby’s manager. “The way I understand it, Mr. Crosby had a lot of stock in the Kellogg’s company, and remember, this was the late 1940s. People didn’t eat cold cereal then the way they do today. Mr. Crosby’s Kellogg’s stock was just sitting there, and he had an idea for how to boost the share price”.

The idea involved Tony doing an ad for a new cereal that Kellogg’s had developed, called Sugar Frosted Flakes. “They were just corn flakes that had been sandblasted with sugar,” Tony said, “and they weren’t selling very well. Mr. Crosby thought that we could come up an advertising campaign involving me to get people to buy them.”

But what everyone thought would be a quick run-through for the ad turned into several weeks of failed effort. “We just didn’t have a slogan that was catchy,” Tony wrote. “Mr. Crosby was in the studio with us every day trying to pull this all together, and it was getting nowhere fast. Then one day, Mr. Crosby’s friend, Bob Hope, showed up at the studio unannounced. Mr. Crosby was terribly frustrated with the way things were going, and Mr. Hope thought he could lure him away for a relaxing game of golf.”

“At first Mr. Crosby wasn’t interested, but then we went through what must have been the 30th take, and he just sighed and said to Mr. Hope, ‘All right, Junior, let’s blow this popsicle stand.'”

“At which point Mr. Hope said, ‘Grrreat, Bing, let’s hit the links.'”

“All at once, everybody’s eyes lit up. Mr. Crosby turned to Mr. Hope and said, ‘Sorry, Junior, we’ve got work to do here.’ And the rest, of course, is history.”

Tony became an overnight sensation. Sugar Frosted Flakes catapulted Kellogg’s into the number one purveyor of breakfast cereals, and made Bing Crosby fresh millions in the process. Tony went on to become Kellogg’s primary spokesfeline throughout the ’50s and ’60s.

But it wasn’t enough. As Tony recalls in his autobiography, “I’d done some dinner theater — you know, The Little Foxes, Arsenic and Old Lace, stuff like that — and I’d caught the acting bug.”

Soon he was being offered television roles. “I did a Bonanza, the one where Adam is being chased by a band of outlaws, and he goes deeper and deeper into the wilderness. I played the mountain lion that attacked him in his camp. They had to dye my fur a tawny brown so I’d look the part, and it was awful. It took weeks to get that shit out of my fur.” But the experience forged a lasting friendship between Tony and Pernell Roberts (Adam). At the time of Roberts’ death in 2010, Tony told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “He was a wonderful man, and a truly great actor. I have no idea why he had such a terrible reputation.”

Other roles followed, including turns on My Mother The Car, F-Troop, Hogan’s Heroes, Ironside, and Bewitched. By the early ’70s, Tony was ready for the big screen.

“I still had a lot of pull with Mr. Crosby,” Tony wrote, “and the next thing I know, I’m on a plane to Europe to audition for Bernardo Bertolucci. He was trying to cast the male lead for his upcoming film, Last Tango in Paris, and he’d offered me a reading. I thought it went well, but the part eventually went to Marlon Brando.”

In a 1977 interview with Playboy, Bernardo Bertolucci spoke about Tony’s audition for Last Tango. “He had great presence,” Bertolucci remembered, “but he was a fucking tiger, for Christ’s sake. I mean, the script called for explicit scenes with Maria Schneider, including nudity and implied sex, and you just can’t make an interspecies thing work on film. God knows I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

After that disappointment, Tony contented himself to being a spokesfeline and good-will ambassador for the Kellogg’s company. “When you net it all out, my life is pretty good,” Tony recalled at the time, “and so what if I don’t get parts on the big screen. I’ve got my fans, and that’s good enough for me”.

Things went along pretty well for him throughout the rest of the ’70s and the ’80s, until the Congressional hearings in the ’90s that were his ultimate undoing. Afterwards, he retired from public life, but not before Kellogg’s had scanned his body into their computers so that they could generate commercials using his image into the far distant future. “And, I’ll have you know, I don’t get a dime for any of it,” he told Oprah in 2008. His final public appearance was a brief walk-on in the series 30 Rock in 2011.

Married six times, his final marriage ending in 1996, Tony was unmarried at the time of his death. He is survived by a son, Tony Jr., who is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Ford Motor Company, and a daughter, Anastasia Tigropolis-Zimmermann, author of some 20 children’s books.

A Tofu 2.0 Post
Originally published August 11, 2013

I had every intention of reading Tony Norman’s column in the Post-Gazette the other morning, as I do most Tuesday and Friday mornings. But last Friday, I was too busy learning that “a vapor or vapour is a substance in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical point”, that “tobacco is a product processed from the dried leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana”, that “muscle is a soft tissue found in most animals”, and that “Europe is, by convention, one of the world’s seven continents”.

Who knew?

Yes, I was unable to actually read Norman’s consistently scintillating prose last Friday morning, as I was veritably swimming neck deep in the rich sludge of a wonderfully annoying new feature that the PG debuted this past week. A feature which treats all readers of the online edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as though they were illiterate morons.

Now, granted, many PG readers are. Morons, that is. Certainly, the comment streams south of the PG’s articles and columns make a strong case for that. Incidentally, a moron is “a feeble-minded person or mental defective who has a potential mental age of between 8 and 12 years, and is capable of doing routine work under supervision” (most often referred to by its popular synonym, “The GOP”).

This new feature (*) takes the form of active hyperlinks on many of the words and phrases in the text of a given article, and when you hover your mouse or cursor over one of these links, a bubble pops up, with a definition of the word, courtesy of those sub-intellectual anarchists over at Wikipedia. These words are easily identified in the articles by their broken underscore.

Thus, when you are reading an article in the Post-Gazette about Phipps Conservatory, such as this one, you can hover your mouse over the word “moss” to find out that “mosses are a botanical division of small, soft plants that are typically 1-10 cm tall”. Or that a “plant” is “a living organism in the kingdom Plantae”, that psychology is “an academic and applied discipline that involved the scientific study of mental …” (that’s right, “mental …”), or that “energy conservation” “refers to reducing energy through using less of an energy service”.

I would never have guessed that, myself. Thank you so much, Post-Gazette. I guess I can go work on that cold fusion thing now.

Even people’s names don’t manage to get out alive. Molly Steinwald, who, according to the article, heads up Phipps’ science, education and research is subjected to having her last name, “Steinwald”, converted into one of these micro-lessons; when you hover the mouse over her last name, you don’t learn historical tidbits about the Steinwald family, as one would suppose, but instead that “The Steinwald is a mountain range up to in southern Germany, and at the same time, a nature park”.

“Up to in”?

Yes, the syntax is a little battered, and at the same time, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Molly Steinwald, head of the science, education and research departments at Phipps Conservatory, or any member of her family, or even another human being named “Steinwald”. No matter. Few of these Post-Gazette micro courses have much to do with the article at hand. And not that the article at hand seems to matter much to the PG management morons who greenlighted this appalling new feature. It’s hard to keep focused on what Anya Litvak is writing about in the Phipps piece, what with all of the low-hanging intellectual fruit begging to be picked as we slog our way through the text, which has now been reduced to a simple conduit for the curriculum of The Micro University of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (successor institution, one would presume, to the University of Pittsburgh Press).

But, please. Look for yourself. Just click on any, and I mean any article or column in the Post Gazette, hover your mouse over any one of the surfeit of words or phrases with the tell-tale dotted underscore, and prepare to be underwhelmed. Not to mention distracted from actually reading whatever article you’ve called up.

We live in an age of bewildering distraction as it is. And the PG’s bold new effort at educating its readers by providing irresistible little distractions at nearly every turn in every piece they publish isn’t exactly helping with matters of comprehension and retention — which I would argue are among the chief reasons that people may not know, as Norman’s Friday column tells us in its numerous Micro University lessons, that “democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally”, that “SWAT is a commonly-used proper name for law enforcement units which use military-style light weapons and specialized tactics”, or that addiction is “a compulsive need to use drugs”, in the first place.

I managed to get all of that, but still somehow I missed entirely what Norman had to say about e-cigarettes in his column. Oh well, at least I came away from it with the knowledge that The Marlboro Man is “a figure used in tobacco advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes”. Not “a tobacco advertising campaign”, mind you. Just “tobacco advertising campaign”.

So, not only do the PG’s columns and articles have this liquid shit sprayed all over them, but syntax and usage takes it on the chin as well, not that one would actually expect a newspaper to lead its community in things like English syntax and usage.

Now, granted, I seem to have reached some kind of critical mass of annoyance with the PG, what with all of the expando-ads that shift the text either down or up or to the left or right, turning the simple act of reading into running an obstacle course. Not to mention the “floaters” that seem to know right where my eyes are when they enter the screen from stage left or right and plop themselves right down in the middle of what may or may not have been an interesting sentence. After a few minutes of this abuse, I just get worn out, and click down my browser.

But this latest thing is simply too much. The tiresome combination of annoyance and what seems almost like arrogance on the PG’s part … I mean, does anyone even bother to edit these things? I was reading an article last week in which the little help-links told me that a motorcycle helmet is “a type of helmet used by motorcycle riders”, and that a door knob is “a door handle attached to a mechanism used to open or close a door”. Does the Post-Gazette really think that people want (or, God help us, need) to know what a motorcycle helmet and a doorknob are?

Sometimes, of course, these educational sand grains can be unintentionally amusing, as when I encountered “State Police” underlined in an article, and when I hovered over it, it said, “For the 1956-1959 television series starring Rod Cameron, see State Trooper”.


But the humor is fleeting. It seems as though the PG’s Information Systems department (the same clown car of geeks and imbeciles who are responsible for the PG’s web site — more on that in an upcoming post) just turned this feature on, without any kind of filtration (if such a thing even exists), and completely without regard to how it would affect the experience of the end user (the reader). It strikes me as another case of the Information Systems tail wagging the PG editorial dog, and the reputation of the paper is beginning to suffer from it.

Still, it seems to me that, annoying as this new PG feature is, it has the potential to be very useful, when properly applied, on complex topics having to do with finance, government, foreign affairs, the military, etc. And I get that, I really do.

But this thing has to be selective. You can’t be cluttering up PG articles with definitions of motorcycle helmets and doorknobs, for christsake. It’s bush league. It makes the Post-Gazette look like a bunch of fucking amateurs. Somebody’s got to edit this stuff. I presume that there still are editors at the PG, no?

I’ve always loved the PG, of course, but there has been a foul smell emanating from that building on the Boulevard of the Allies lately, and it seems to be getting worse with each new “feature” that the PG rolls out from whatever addled brain trust is calling the shots these days. Couple this with the ugly fact that when it comes to hard news in southwestern Pennsylvania, it is simply a matter of fact that the Tribune-Review has been handing the Post-Gazette its ass on a regular basis, it pains me to say. The Trib’s editorial page may be fit only for the liner of my cat’s litter box, but they’ve really been showing the people of this region something lately when it comes to straight news. I used to dismiss the Trib as “that Greensburg paper”, but in the past few years they have come a long way in defining themselves in this media market as one of its most important sources of news and information.

It is this that should be foremost on the mind of David Shirbman, as he desperately grapples for things that will give the PG a leg up on the Trib, whose readership heel-nipping at the PG has recently begun to draw blood. If the Post-Gazette is to survive as the newspaper of record for the City of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, then the management of the PG is going to have to start thinking inside the box again. Which means remembering that above all they are a newspaper. And that for a real newspaper, in the final analysis editorial considerations trump technological ones.

And it also wouldn’t hurt to bear in mind that insulting the reader base is not exactly the way forward here.

(*) Which I would duplicate here in this post, but alas, I have a “free” WordPress site (cheap bastard that I am), and freebie sites do not permit the inclusion of Java script, or even more sophisticated HTML code than text modifiers and anchors. (-daj)

Last summer, we launched what we hoped would be a successor blog to OMT, called, appropriately enough, Tofu 2.0. Our intent was to change the direction of our work, abandoning all of the trappings of OMT (the royal “we”, the tongue-in-cheek business of pretending we were a “major news organization”, etc.) and doing something more streamlined and direct.

As luck would have it, we discovered that without those very “trappings” we were so quick to jettison, we’d lost something essential; the baby with the bathwater, as it were — that sine qua non quality that set OMT apart from innumerable blogs out there. In virtually no time, we found that it just wasn’t working for us at all.

Well, that, and the fact that because of one particular post we’d done, we managed to pick up a group of “followers” that we would rather have done without. Also, quite frankly, the general tone of the new blog was morphing into an area that we didn’t particularly like.

Regardless, the end result was that we weren’t writing at all anymore. And while we convinced ourself that that was OK, because we’d shifted our primary artistic focus to music over the course of the past several years, it still wasn’t reason enough to abandon writing entirely, which is what had happened.

Recently, we had occasion to go back and read some of the 800+ posts we’d written during our 5 years of producing OMT, and not only were we impressed with what we’d achieved (granted, not all of those 804 posts were winners, to be sure, but of the ones that were, some of them were real gems, even if we do say so ourself), but we started to feel the old keyboard tugging at our sleeve once again.

Tofu 2.0, however, was such a useless bummer for us, that we thought about abandoning it entirely and toyed with the idea of starting up yet another blog, something like Tofu 3.0.

But the more we thought about it, that was absurd, because the real problem was that we wanted to go back to OMT, trappings and all, and move forward with that. It’s fully established, for one thing, and we wouldn’t have to go through the mechanics of setting up a new blog. Going back to OMT turned out to be the only logical thing to do.

Which is what we’ve decided to do. The only thing that remained was the disposition of the 2.0 blog. We hated the thoughts of just deleting it, as it contained 10 posts, and we recoil at the idea of trashing anything we’ve written, good or bad. But we didn’t like the idea of it just sitting out there, unused, either. The only thing to do, it seemed to us, was to bring those ten 2.0 posts back into the big tent so that we can delete Tofu 2.0 and be done with it.

So, the next 10 posts are going to be reprints of the 10 posts that originally appeared in Tofu 2.0.

From there, we move into the future.

We’ve noticed that One Man’s Tofu is still generating only slightly less traffic now that it is defunct than it was when it was an active blog. This is at once confusing and annoying, especially since we’ve recently launched a new blog that is getting precious little traffic.

The new blog is called, appropriately enough, Tofu 2.0, as it is the second iteration of our blogging vehicle.

After having taken about eight months off, we feel that we’re ready to start generating output again, although as we say in our introduction, there’ll be none of this “we” business on the new blog, nor any of the other things that characterized OMT. In 2.0, we’re shooting for something that’s a little more straight-ahead — as always, serious about our opinions, yet still not without the sense of whimsey that defines us.

As we’re just getting started again after an extensive lay-off, it might take some time for us to get our sea legs again (we’re not terribly pleased with any of the posts we’ve made thus far), but in time, once we get our chops back and hit our stride, we’re hoping that things will fall into place.

But what that means is that what you are reading is without question the final entry in the One Man’s Tofu blog. There will be nothing more, so you might as well redirect your “bookmarks”, or “favorites”, or whatever your particular browser likes to call them, to the new site, because after this, the 804th post, this one’s closing up shop for good.

As usual, thanks for reading OMT, and we hope you will come to like the new site as much as this one.

Preferably, more.

Tofu 2.0

Bonus Feature

As the final, final post to One Man’s Tofu before we close up shop for good, we thought that it would be nice to include as a “bonus feature” the first (and only) published work we ever managed to pull off.

This is especially pertinent at this particular time, as it originally appeared in the January 1, 2003 issue of the Pittsburgh City Paper weekly, exactly 10 years ago this week. It was part of CP’s late and lamented “Rant” column, in which CP readers could submit short pieces for publication. The pieces generally consisted of bitching about what ever happened to be stuck in the author’s craw, hence the column’s title. Although our piece wasn’t exactly a “rant” in the traditional sense, the editor liked it enough to publish it in the column anyway.

It was a real thrill for us when it was published, and even though it’s pretty tame (and pretty lame) stuff compared to some of the things we did in OMT, its inclusion here brings a sense of completeness to our canon.

We were paid in the form of a $10 gift certificate for something we didn’t like and so we never used it, if memory serves, and our payment may very well still be lurking in a drawer somewhere. Thus, our amateur status as a writer is assured.

As we read the piece, we were very tempted to go back and do some tinkering with it to improve it and bring it more in line with how we are writing today. But we resisted this, deciding that the right thing to do was to let it stand exactly as it was.

Even though parts of it make us cringe.

We have, however, taken the liberty of restoring our original wording to the only bit of editing by the CP editor that we didn’t agree with — he changed our “more stark” to “starker”, which, at the time, we felt broke the stride of the sentence.

We still do.

Enjoy …


ps. You’ll note that we also put up a more appropriate seasonal header image, but don’t go looking in the OMT Gallery for a new entry. We re-used one of the images from last winter.

We really are done, you know.

Gaining Home Depot Not Worth Losing Shadyside’s Rollier’s

By Dave Juliette

I went to Shadyside on a recent Sunday, ostensibly to do some Christmas shopping, but primarily to pay one final visit to Rollier’s Hardware. I recently learned the Rollier’s will be closing its doors permanently after the holidays, yet another victim of national chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

I lived in Shadyside for almost 15 years during the ’70s and the ’80s, and Rollier’s was the neighborhood store where I could go for virtually anything I needed. When I rented my first Shadyside apartment, a one-bedroom on Negley just down the street from Walnut, it was Rollier’s that outfitted me with everything, from glassware to bookcases. Its aisles were packed with a wide variety of items from electrical and plumbing supplies to house wares, hand tools, chains of all sizes, clocks, bins and shelving (what are now called “storage solutions”) and much more. We always used to say, paraphrasing Garrison Keillor, “If you can’t find it at Rollier’s, you can probably live without it.”

The people who worked at Rollier’s were always helpful, patient and tolerant, even when the customer was woefully inept (as I tended to be) or downright bizarre (as was not unusual in Shadyside in those days). They made sure that I was properly outfitted for my project both in terms of equipment and advice before I walked out of the store, and would even ask how things went when I returned on subsequent visits. In the checkout line I could usually count on hearing some new tidbit of Walnut Street gossip.

Living in Shadyside, I managed to develop relationships with many who worked at the shops on Walnut Street. Oftentimes, we didn’t know each other’s names, but after a few years of regular visits, a mutual regard began to take shape almost without an awareness that it had developed. This happened to me at Rollier’s fairly early on. The people who worked there seemed to genuinely care about their business, their neighborhood and their customers. To anyone who has had the misfortune to deal with the return counter at Lowe’s in The Waterfront, the contrast could not be more stark.

When I went to Rollier’s that Sunday, I noticed that the area in the back that used to have the gardening equipment had been partitioned off and a small tavern had taken up residence. Also, there were far fewer Christmas decorations than usual, presumably owing to the upcoming closure. I didn’t recognize any of the clerks that were working that day.

But before I went to the checkout, I walked downstairs to the basement where the electrical and plumbing supplies were, and from the back, long-time Rollier’s employee Rick Faller saw me and came out to ask if there was anything I needed. I don’t think that he remembered me, so many years had passed. But I said no, I didn’t need anything. I told him that I lived in Shadyside many years ago, that I read in the paper that they were closing and had come in for one final purchase. I told him how sorry I was that they were closing and he seemed grateful to hear that. I was grateful simply to have had the opportunity to tell him.

I walked back upstairs and stood in the checkout line while the girl behind the counter made arrangements for a new job with the customer ahead of me. I think it was at the cosmetics counter in a store somewhere, maybe on Walnut Street …

The giant national chains may give us lower prices, a wider selection and more convenient hours, but if the Home Depot in East Liberty were to close, people would just go to the one in Monroeville. Some of them might be bigger than others, but essentially they’re all the same. The only reason someone might be upset would be the loss of convenience.

When Rollier’s closes for the final time, we will have lost something increasingly rare: a first-rate neighborhood hardware store. Of course, the Walnut Street of today is not the Walnut Street that I remember, and the closing of Rollier’s is just another step away from the character that once gave Shadyside its unique appeal.

My final purchase? A digital alarm clock. Not a clock radio, just an alarm clock. Every place else I went only had clock-radios, but I didn’t want a clock-radio. I wanted an alarm clock.

Leave it to Rollier’s to have just what I needed.

Reproduced from the Pittsburgh City Paper, 1/1/2003, All Rights Removed.

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning;
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day.

            — George Harrison

It was five years ago today that we launched One Man’s Tofu, and in celebration we are announcing that we are, once and for all, closing up this franchise for good.

There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is our waning interest in maintaining a blog, in politics, and in writing in general.

It’s been a great ride (802 posts over five years), and we are grateful to all of you who have followed this blog, especially those of you who have followed it since the very beginning.

But five years is long enough, and it’s time for us to move on. As we haven’t contributed much in the past few months, we are long overdue for pulling the plug, and this seems like as good a time as any. Maybe better than most, actually, since it allows us to tie things up in a very neat package — a perfect 5 years.

And, as blogs go, we think that OMT was quite an achievement — not as good as some, a bit better than a lot of them, and far superior to the overwhelming majority of shit that people are posting online.

Even if we do say so ourself.

And we do.

It’s the real deal, this time … we won’t be coming back.

To OMT anyway — we might consider doing something like this again in the future, but not right now, and not in this format.

So, we’re OTFD, as we used to say in the USAF.

Thanks for reading.


The light at the end of the tunnel of America’s two-year presidential election orgy is shining brightly and clearly from where we sit this morning, and we think that we’re likely not the only one who is feeling a sense of relief that one of the most wrenching, anti-democratic, embarrassing, divisive, ineffective, and hate-filled spectacles in modern politics is finally coming to a long-overdue close.

The rampant and abject failures in every single institution in America — from the government, to the courts, to the media, to business, to the financial sector, to the people themselves — have been on vivid display, for all the world to see, making a mockery of the principles of representative government once deemed so important that hundreds of thousands of loyal Americans laid down their lives — from Lexington and Concord, to Basra and Takrit — in their defense.

What we have witnessed over the course of the past two years is not worth defending in these pages, let alone on the battlefield. America’s precipitous decline in every virtually metric imaginable — a process unleashed 30 years ago with the election of St. Ronnie of Bonzo — has only accelerated with Misterogers’ generation of unempathetic narcissists coming online in the political process, bringing along with them the fascism that will ultimately be this country’s undoing.

With our electoral system awash in unimaginable sums of billionaire cash — a catastrophe of pollution on a par with the BP oil spill of a few years back — with voting laws in many states that disenfranchise millions of legitimate voters all to prevent a perceived threat which has never materialized, and with millions of voting machines all over the country under the control of a single corporation — a corporation whose CEO is deep in the pockets of the tea party radicals — one can be forgiven if one comes to the conclusion that it isn’t even worth voting anymore, since the fix is in.

We believe that President Obama will win the presidential election, of course, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Although the Democrats will likely make gains in the Senate (primarily because the GOP has nominated a number of white male Senate candidates who believe that the rape of a woman is a “gift from God”), it is unlikely that they will get the 25 seats required for a Democratic majority in the House, which means that we will be in for four more years of gridlock, as the GOP doubles down on digging in its heels in order to ensure that “this president fail”.

And for this, we blame the people. After eight years with the Republicans in power, America was on the verge of economic collapse in 2008, what with trillions spent on unnecessary wars, those infamous tax cuts for the rich, and the veritable elimination of all forms of regulation on the finance industry. Upon assuming office in January of 2009, President Obama was handed arguably the biggest unholy mess that was ever handed to an incoming president by the Republicans, with the possible exception of the unholy mess that the GOP handed to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

The griping about President Obama not moving fast enough started almost immediately, with, astonishingly, many of the people leading the charge being from the left. Anyone who is laboring under the delusion that any president, let alone a president beleaguered by an opposition accusing him of being everything from a “Kenyan-born, anti-colonialist, socialist” to a “Manchurian candidate who favors death panels for grandma” can reverse an economic trajectory that was 30 years in the making, needs to grow the fuck up.

But even in the face of all of that, President Obama managed to revive the American auto industry, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. The stimulus package created many thousands more, improving our roads, bridges, schools (saving 300,000 education jobs in the process), and other infrastructure, and helped thousands of people stay in their homes and stave off foreclosure. All of this, mind you, was pretty much under the radar of the media, although we understand that the media’s radar has been on the fritz for some time now.

Oh, and by the way, the Down Jones Industrial average was 6,626.94 on March 2, 2009, six weeks after President Obama was sworn in. Last Friday, it closed at 13,093.16.

Not a single time was that particular metric mentioned by anyone in the two years that this presidential campaign has been underway.

These are just the highlights, of course. That he managed to do anything at all with a Republican opposition whose stated goal at the outset was not “to help the American people”, or “to work with this president for the good of the country”, but instead to make sure “that this president fail”, is all the more remarkable.

Why anyone would possibly want to give the reigns of power back to the very people who brought this country to the brink of economic collapse — Mitt Romney being cast from the same defective mold that produced all of the major players in the 2008 financial crisis — is beyond us entirely, and speaks very clearly to both the outrageous stupidity and self-delusion of the average American voter, and the effectiveness of the Republican propaganda machine, led by Fox (ahem) News, and abetted by the nattering morons of talk radio.

History teaches us that no one has ever lost a dime betting on the stupidity of the average American, and that was in the days when we were in the hands of a generation that was still capable of achievement. Since those heady days of moon shots and social safety nets, America has made the decision to sit out the 21st century, abandoning the leadership of the planet to those well-known humanitarians, the Chinese, while we focus instead on ourselves, our celebrities, our pharmaceuticals, and our electronic gizmos, indulging ourselves in our God fetish, and ransacking the curricula in our schools, replacing science with idiot theology. Meanwhile, the Chinese are cranking out the doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and other professionals that will likely solve the planet’s energy and environmental crises while America devolves into a xenophobic fascist dictatorship with death camps for liberals and too many weapons of mass destruction.

The people who are betting on that stupidity are the very same people who are unleashing the billions that have made this election cycle the monument to failed states that it has been. They keep pissing into America’s ear and telling them that it’s raining, and America rushes to buy up all of the umbrellas.

They wail about “voter fraud” when the only people perpetrating a voter fraud upon the American people are the Republicans.

They tell us that President Obama is a socialist (or a fascist, or whatever) who has apparently declared a “war on coal”, who has put America “500 trillion dollars” in debt, when it is the GOP that has fascist designs upon America, who has declared a war on democracy, and will, if given the reigns of power, actually achieve half a quadrillion dollars in debt for this nation if given half a chance.

But the American people, like starving children, gobble up all of the lies and innuendo, putting their trust in the very people who are fucking them up the ass, and seeming to love the incessant pounding on their bottoms.

If, as Joseph de Maistre observed 200 years ago, “Every nation gets the government it deserves,” then it speaks volumes about America that what is unfolding in this country today constitutes what its populace deserves.

It’s appalling, to be sure. Although not so appalling as the fact that America is going down the path to tyranny with its eyes wide open.

We’re not going to tell you to vote Democratic.

But we will tell you to vote against the Republicans.

If that means voting for a Democrat, so be it.

Our Second Act

Tales From the Unemployment Line — Day 539

We didn’t plan to be off the air for the entire month of September, but it was gone before you know it. We were busy, of course, with other more pressing matters, and something had to take the hit, and it turned out to be OMT.

And it looks as though we may have just made the task of running a respected news organization — which is, after all, what OMT is — just that much more difficult for ourself.

Starting today, we will be able to count ourself among the gainfully employed once again, after 18 months outside the workforce.

We made the strategic decision not to go back to the technology field, where we had a successful career for 40 years. No, now that we’re in our 60s, we’ve decided to ride a less challenging trail, with fewer hills, less traffic, and fewer opportunities for road-rage incidents.

We’re starting work today as an overnight security guard at a suburban office park. The Internet being what it is — and our being old school as we are — we are not going to blab about the particulars of the position for the whole damn world (wide web) to see. Putting every detail of one’s life online is a young man’s game, and even if we were still young, it’s unlikely that we would embrace that idea with any enthusiasm at all.

Also, putting details about a security assignment online is hardly the secure thing to do. It was this very ability to exercise common sense that set us apart from the other candidates for the position, or so we’ve been told.

We will say, however, that we’ll be working 40 hours a week over the span of 4 days. All on the “hoot-owl” shift, which will be quite a change for us.

So it’s unlikely that we’ll be picking up the fallen OMT standard any time soon, owing to our immediate need to readjust our circadian rhythms to this new schedule.

But with the 2012 presidential race rapidly approaching its dénouement, we will try to get our act together in time to wade hip deep into the ugly cesspool that politics in 2012 America has become.

It is, after all, our goddam raison d’être.

New week, new month, new quarter, new job.

We have a uniform, a badge, and everything …


Regular readers of OMT will recall Coffee and Milk, a film that we presented about a month ago as part of the OMT Summer Film Festival.

It was one of our favorite films from the festival, and was made even more so by a recent email that we received from the filmmaker himself, Steve Sirski, who thanked us for promoting his film, while at the same time pointing out an error on our part. We’d branded Steve as being an American, when he is, in fact, from Canada.

The kind of good-natured civility that Steve showed us when pointing out our error is one of the things that separates most Americans today from our good friends to the north.

Anyway, sorry Steve … We’ve corrected the original post.

Now that the OMT Summer Film Festival is behind us, we think that the time is right for us to take a couple of weeks off from the daily grind of blogging.

2012 has been quite a run for us. Just before New Year’s, we published OMT post #600, and the one you are reading right now is OMT post #798. Almost 200 posts so far this year, and it’s only the end of August, with no significant breaks (the longest break we’ve taken all year was the three days around Memorial Day weekend).

So we think that we’ve earned some time off before we take to the final stretch of the campaign trail, which from all appearances, is going to be nothing if not taxing. And so for us to be fully engaged in the whole dreadful process, we need to husband our resources, take some time to recharge our batteries, and drink from the fountain of leisure so that we can hit the ground running once the conventions are out of the way. Republican-bashing can be a resource-draining activity, and considering the crowd they’re putting forward this fall as legitimate candidates for political office, it’s going to take every ounce of strength — not to mention guile — that we can muster to properly malign them. We can’t use our tried-and-true calls to the forces of reason with these bastards, so we’ve got to go off and figure out a new strategy that will allow us to go mano a mano with the forces of evil within the ranks of the GOP that are waving their flags and appealing to our sense of patriotism as they lead us down the road to tyranny and economic ruin.

We have to admit right off the top, though, that we were surprised at who Mitt Romney has chosen as his running mate. We’d always wondered what happened to Eddie Munster. Looks like he’s all grown up now.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Republican vice presidential picks, we thought we would sate your appetite for OMT political analysis with a piece that we wrote four years ago this week — it was our first piece ever on Sarah Palin. This was before she became something of a regular feature of OMT until she became so pathetic that we were no longer able to glean even an iota of joy from trashing her, along with her über-redneck Alaska secessionist freedom fighter husband Todd, and their strange little brood, Track, Bristol, Trig, Signpost, Highlift, the twins Brace and Bit, and little Sewerpipe, the bastard child of Bristol and her hunky whoremaster, Leviticus The Simpleminded.

But we don’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore. Who knew just four short years ago when John McCain foisted her on the American body politic that by the next presidential election cycle she would have proven to be the prototype for today’s garden-variety GOP candidate? There are more Republican whack-jobs to kick around today than Imelda Marcos had shoes for the kicking.

Sort of makes you wonder where the Republican Party — excuse us, the Republican Liberation Army — will be four years from now.

And into what tyranny their inertia will have jerked the rest of America.

We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the Film Festival, and we thank all of you for all of the kind words we’ve received via email as well as in person. We were a little disorganized with it this year, as we just sort of stumbled into it on a lark, but by next year we hope that it will be a more fully-realized presentation.

It probably won’t be, but we at least we hope it will, which should count for something.

As usual, thanks for reading (and watching) OMT.

We hope to be back on the air sometime around the Autumnal Equinox.

See you then.

The Candy Shop

OMT Summer Film Festival

We ring down the curtain on the first annual OMT Summer Film Festival (a week earlier than we had planned) with a serious film about a serious topic.

Atlanta is something of the citadel of child sex trafficking in the United States, with upwards 500 underaged girls (and fewer, but still a scandalous number of boys) a month being lost to the dark underworld of the sex trades in a city that likes to preen itself as “the capital of the New South”. Not only is Atlanta the number 1 city in the US for the child sex trade, it comes in at number 10 in the world, right up there with Bangkok, Singapore, and other festering holes around the globe where the Jerry Sanduskys of this world travel on “sex vacations”.

The Candy Shop is a “fairytale/parable” about child sex trafficking that was produced by the Doorpost Film Project to raise awareness about an epidemic whose epicenter in this country is right in the middle of a city that we have loathed for most of our life for a host of other, personal reasons, and for which, in the light of this new revelation about the rotten core of that hideous metropolis, we now feel completely justified.

The film is part of a city-wide campaign in Atlanta (which they hope spreads to the rest of the country) to bring this problem the kind of profile it needs to get people riled up enough to stamp it out.

You would think that with CNN being headquartered in Atlanta, that the country would already be aware of what is going on in that 21st century Gomorrah with a drawl.

Support for this film was also given by Street Grace, an Atlanta-based organization that works to end child exploitation.

Produced by Whitestone Motion Pictures, a “boutique film company from the haunted foothills of the Appalachia”.

Young Jimmy Balcom has a job selling newspapers during the depression. His stand is right across the street from a strange little candy shop whose owner is a bizarre creature, and whose clientele is all older men. The shop keeper spots Jimmy, and offers him a Faustian bargain.

This film clocks in at 30 minutes.

If your browser doesn’t support embedded video, click here.


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